SC disposes of Punjab govt appeal in dispute over Bahawalpur nawab's land

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday finally disposed of a Punjab government appeal against a Lahore High Court (LHC) judgement in a longstanding dispute over inheritance of 312,440-acre land of late His Highness Amir of Bahawalpur Nawab Sadiq Mohammad Khan Abbasi.

A five-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, disposed of the appeal with an observation that the case had borne fruit but remedy was available with the appropriate forum in case of any grievance regarding the determination of lands.

The SC had taken up the appeal of the Punjab government against the 2011 judgement of the LHC, which had quashed a proceeding initiated by the Punjab Land Commission for the resumption of the lands, which the legal heirs claimed was private property of the nawab.

Upholds LHC order quashing land resumption proceedings initiated by the land commission

Additional Advocate General of Punjab Qasim Ali Nawaz Chohan pleaded the appeal of the Punjab government, whereas senior counsel Barrister Ali Zafar and Naveed Rasool Mirza represented the legal heirs.

Shortly after the establishment of the united province of West Pakistan, commonly known as “One Unit”, the Amir of Bahawalpur State and the government of Pakistan had executed the “Bahawalpur Merger Agreement” on Dec 17, 1954. This agreement reiterated the accession of the State of Bahawalpur to the dominion of Pakistan, also acknowledging that the nawab will be entitled to the full ownership, use and enjoyment of all the jewels, jewellery, ornaments, securities and other private properties, movable as well as immovable, and thus will be exempted from the land reforms regulations. But the properties belonging to the State of Bahawalpur, according to the agreement, will be liable to land resumption. Subsequently, a list of palaces, buildings, and other properties, which were recognised by the government of Pakistan as the personal property of the late amir, was prepared. The list was also duly signed on behalf of the government on June 8, 1955, the copy of which was also handed over to the amir.

However, during the lifetime of the amir, a dispute erupted regarding resumption of land measuring 312,440 acres in Bahawalpur that the nawab in his declaration had declared to be a ‘Shikargah’ (hunting ground).

The Punjab Land Commission was of the opinion that laws of the land were applicable to Shikargah, a point of view also affirmed by the Supreme Court in an earlier round of litigation by a five-judge bench in 1982. The apex court had emphasised that only the private properties of the Amir of Bahawalpur were exempted from the land reforms but not the ones owned by the State.

The SC had also held that until and unless the properties belonging to the Amir of Bahawalpur were not distributed or partitioned amongst legal heirs, the land commission would not proceed.

But the Punjab Land Commission initiated revision proceedings on its own for the determination of the Shikargah land for resumption on part of the provincial government. Conse­quently, the legal heirs challenged the proceedings before the high court.

In 2011, a division bench of the high court, headed by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, struck down the proceedings commenced by the Punjab Land Commission. The Punjab government then moved the Supreme Court against the judgement.

While disposing of the appeal on Tuesday, the apex court held that there was no illegality in the LHC order and that the earlier judgement of the Supreme Court had to be implemented.

The SC in its 1982 order had held that until and unless the properties belonging to the Amir of Bahawalpur were not distributed or partitioned amongst legal heirs, the land commission would not proceed.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2018

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