KARACHI: “Mr Commissioner you were asked to submit a report about a building built on the drain on Shahrah-i-Quaideen in Sindhi Muslim Cooperative Housing Society. What you have done about that,” Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice (CJ) Gulzar Ahmed asked the Karachi commissioner on February 6, 2020.
The CJ was addressing the government functionaries and lawyers present in his courtroom at the SC’s Karachi Registry.
When the CJ had on Feb 6, 2020 inquired from the Karachi commissioner about the construction of the building on the drain of Shahrah-i-Quaideen, no one would have thought that 16 months later the apex court would be ordering its demolition.
The story of the plot where Nasla Tower was to be built began in 1950 when Nusrat Ali was issued an allotment letter for land measuring 780 square yards. The allotment letter mentioned the number of the plot as A-193 and its location as Survey No 242, Survey Sheet Stratchen Quarters, Karachi.
On Nusrat’s death, the plot was transferred to his widow Mustafai Begum who on March 12, 1955 entered into a lease agreement with Sindhi Muslim Cooperative Housing Society (SMCHS).
In 1957, the main road, then known as Karachi-Malir Road, which was proposed to be 280 feet was realigned and reduced to 240 feet.
According to the claim of the owner of Nasla Tower, on December 27, 1957, the Karachi chief commissioner through a notification allotted the excess 40 feet — 20 feet on each side of the road — to SMCHS which in turn allotted it to its members.
Hence, the area of plot No A-193 was increased by 264 square yards and it became 1,044 square yards. However, the leased area of the plot No A-193 remained 780 square yards as the lease was not amended to incorporate additional 264 square yards.
However, two letters produced in court by the owner of Nasla Tower suggested that it was assistant secretary to then chief commissioner who had written to Karachi collector and Karachi Municipal Commissioner merely showing his agreement for allotting excess 40 square yards to SMCHS and no order to this effect was issued.
During the hearing in the apex court, Amber Alibhai of Sheri, a non-governmental organisation working on civic issues, pointed out that the commissioner had returned the land for service road and had not allotted it to SMCHS for further allotment to its members.
After the death of Mustafai Begum, plot No A-193, then measuring 1,044 square yards, was transferred to her four surviving legal heirs. By May 27, 2005, the entire 1,044 square yards was transferred in the name of Rafiqa Rafique by the legal heirs.
Rafiqa issued the power of attorney to Abu Bakar Katlia, and the sub-attorney was issued to Muzammil Amin. According to the apex court, the present owner had acquired the plot by way of conveyance deed executed in 2015.
Former Karachi amir of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Niamatullah Khan just a year before expiry of his term as city nazim during the local government system of General Musharraf got passed resolution No 383 on January 6, 2004 by the City Council for conversion of all residential plots on Shahrah-i-Faisal to commercial.
On Jan 23, 2007, the owner of plot No A-193 applied for changing status of his plot from residential to commercial and on payment of commercialisation charges the plot was converted to commercial.
Even after being converted to commercial, the size of plot No A-193 reportedly continued to grow. During its surveying, it was discovered that excess land of 77 square yards belonging to SMCHS was within the boundary wall of the plot.
On February 15, 2010, SMCHS passed a resolution to amalgamate the additional 77 square yards in plot No A-193 and the same became its part increasing its size to 1,121 square yards. However, its leased size remained 780 square yards.
The apex court called reports from mukhtiarkar Ferozabad and Karachi commissioner about increase in the size of plot No A-193. The mukhtiarkar in his report with the help of layout plan explained that the excess land allegedly given to SMCHS and subsequently to its members was meant for the service road and the size of plot No A-193 was increased by encroaching the service road.
The commissioner after inspecting the record stated that Nasla Tower was constructed by encroaching land of service road.
On June 16, apex court holding that leasehold of plot No A-193 could not be increased on the basis of letters and certificate issued by SMCHS as the same does not, in any manner, have effect of modifying, amending or substituting the original lease deed, and ordered demolition of Nasla Tower.
Almost all political parties which have stakes in Karachi in one way or another were opposing the demolition of Nasla Tower. On a keen investigation about the increase in the size of plot No A-193 or its commercialisation, it became clear that every party had played some role to this effect. The commercialisation of Shahrah-i-Faisal was allowed during the tenure of JI mayor, while further increase in the size of the plot was allowed during the tenure of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) nazim in 2010.
During the respective tenures of Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Siraj Durrani and Owais Muzaffar as Sindh local government minister, no objection certificates (NOC) for building plan and the sale and advertisement of residential units and shops were issued to Nasla Tower project.
On May 18, 2015, on the basis of only an initial environmental examination (IEE) and not an environmental impact assessment (EIA), the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) accorded its approval to the project.
During the hearing of review petition for reviewing the order of June 16, 2021, the counsel for the owner Muneer A. Malik argued that in 1947-1948, the then municipal corporation had agreed to lease 316,000 square yards land to SMCHS. However, only 306,400 square yards land was leased to SMCHS.
A lawsuit of SMCHS filed in 1996 against KMC was still pending in Sindh High Court (SHC). According to the counsel, the SMCHS had allotment of the remaining land which it allotted to its members which conferred them title within the meaning of transfer of property act. However, the apex court did not agree with the proposition of the counsel and dismissed the review petition.
Recently, a petition had been filed in SHC asking the court to direct Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) to frame its own rules and regulations as currently the authority does not have its own rules and works under the Karachi Building and Town Planning Regulations, 2002.