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The Supreme Court’s verdict on Nasla tower is setting unsettling precedent

Yesterday the demolition cranes went in and started demolishing Nasla Tower. This has brought up many disquieting issues that are being ignored. There were no doubt discrepencies in the tower's approval but there has to be a mechanism to safeguard consumer rights and one is it is important that Suo moto cases under article 184 (3) should be heard by at least a five-member bench of senior-most judges of the Supreme Court and a review by a full-court and that an insurance market is developed to help protect innocent consumers against malafide actions by external actors.

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As the Karachi administration demolishes the 15-story Nasla Tower, expelled hapless residents and investors now search for redressal of their misfortune.

On June 16, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the demolition of the Nasla Tower situated on the main Shahrah-e-Faisal in Karachi with at least 43 apartments, which were already occupied by residents who were living there for several years, after a Suo Moto was taken under Article 184 (3) of the constitution.

The three-judge SC bench had also dismissed a review petition by the tower’s builder against the demolition of the property on September 22, ordering the petitioner to compensate all registered owners of residential and commercial units in the building.

Residents of the tower were served with eviction notices requiring them to vacate the building by October 27 or face action by relevant authorities. Now, at the beginning of November, the Supreme Court has also taken another Suo Moto order to demolish the Tijori Heights in Karachi within four weeks.

In wake of such developments, builders and investors, including common citizen investors, who have purchased apartments in high-rise buildings across Karachi, numbering in hundreds of thousands, fear that they could very well face a similar fate.

Read more: CJP thrashes Sindh government for incompetency: All provinces prospering except it

Given the fact that the buildings being demolished, had received regulatory approvals at multiple levels has raised serious concerns and uncertainties with regards to people’s investments and places they consider home. Irregularities, corruption, mistakes, and negligence by authorities spanning decades now create a looming threat that could result in consequences for unsuspecting common folk.

There is a dire need for insurance cover or final case of due diligence for the title of land to be introduced in Pakistan for the safeguard of the end consumer. Although it is a task with no shortage of impediments along the way, it does require immediate attention. There is a need for active due diligence for the title of the land to be conducted before the sale or we are likely to witness demolition of over half of the cities infrastructure.

In the case of the Nasla towers, the Supreme Court found that the tower’s land was originally residential land allotted in the 1950s to a certain individual who died, with his wife later inheriting the property. In 1957, Commissioner Karachi reallocated the land after re-demarcation of the Shahrah-e-Faisal and gave additional land to the widow owner.

 

The Sindhi Muslim Cooperation Organization followed suit, giving her more additional land at a later period. However, the Supreme Court had declared that she had not got an amended and revised lease issued by the Sindhi Muslim Cooperative Society when this additional land was awarded.

And On this basis, the court has determined that more than 340 yards of extra land appropriated in the tower’s structure, of 1121 yards, which was not part of the original allotment of around 780 yards, is unlawful. The Supreme Court found this defect after 60 years. A similar issue has been identified in the case of ‘Tijori heights.’

When a Suo Moto notice is taken under Article 184 (3, there is no court of the first instance, neither the right to appeal for a review at the high court or otherwise is allowed to the aggrieved party, also the review undertaken by the Supreme Court is carried out by the same bench of the apex court, which initially takes the Suo moto—usually a two or three-member bench.

Hence, there are no real options for the redressal of these cases, which are processed quickly. Common citizen investors that GVS has spoken to have identified that when builders and developers advertise a certain project on, say, the Shahrah-e-Faisal or anywhere in Karachi for that matter, they usually mention the license numbers and permissions from the Karachi Development Authority, Sindh Building Control Authority, which serve as the validation, that most investors rely on before initiating an installment plan.

Read more: Nasla Tower Demolition: Challenge for the Karachi Developers & Investors

As mentioned above, hundreds and thousands of investors are now worried about the legitimacy of these advertised approvals. This will create huge uncertainty in the high-rise real estate market, which the government has been promoting for economic growth and attempting to provide low-cost cheap housing for common people. Moreover, even if the investors and residents are offered compensation for their losses, it is important to note that the market price for people’s assets has multiplied from the initial purchase.

GVS has spoken to several builders, developers, and investors who have urged that the cases under Article 184(3) should be heard by at least a five-member bench of the Supreme Court’s senior-most judges and reviewed by a full court (currently full strength is 17). The former Chief Justice had suggested the same, Asif Seed Khosha, who stated that a full- court might hear a review in such matters to give all defendants a better right of defense.

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