Cancellation of lease: Court suspends Auqaf Dept notification

The Peshawar High Court on Wednesday suspended a controversial notification of the provincial Auqaf Department asking the Pakistan Oilseed Development Board (PODB) to vacate a vast piece of land. PODB had raised a foreign funded olive research centre at the 170-acre piece of land in Mardan leased out to it in 1998. A two-member bench comprising Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Syed Sajjad Hassan Shah put the Auqaf Department on notice that until its next order the impugned notification issued last October should remain suspended. The Auqaf Department`s notice had given rise to a controversy between the provincial and federal ministry of food and agriculture. Following reports in a section of press that the National Accountability Bureau had taken notice of the controversy, the provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain announced a few days back that the land would be auctioned.

Advocate Muhammad Asif representing the petitioner PODB contended that his client had spent huge funds on establishing the olive research centre and that the notice issued abruptly by the Auqaf Department threatened to throw all that into waste. He stated that the lease period was to expire in 2012 and the department acted in illegal manner by issuing the impugned notice. Under the lease deed, any dispute arising between the parties had to be resolved by the chief administrator of Auqaf, the lawyer said. However, the administrator had no authority under the deed to issue the impugned notice, he argued. He added that the administrator had claimed that the lease period had expired and the possession of land should be handed back to the department. The petitioner stated that the olive research station was established in 1998 on 170 acres with the help of Turkey and Italy. The petitioner stated that it was given the land by Auqaf on lease. The land at the time of possession was barren and rain-fed. PODB spent millions of rupees to develop it. The petition states that the land was given to the PODB with the clear understanding that its lease would be extended. – Dawn