Military corporate farming case: No minutes recorded of ministerial meeting, LHC told

LHC resumes hearing petition against grant of large swathes of public land in Punjab to military for “corporate agricultural farming”

By
Benazir Shah
The picture shows the building of the Lahore High Court. — Radio Pakistan/File
The picture shows the building of the Lahore High Court. — Radio Pakistan/File 

The Punjab government did not record the minutes of a ministerial committee meeting allegedly held last October to modify the terms and conditions and thereby allow state land to be leased to the Pakistan Army for corporate farming, the Lahore High Court (LHC) was told.

On Monday, a single bench of the LHC resumed hearing a petition against the grant of large swathes of public land in Punjab to the military for “corporate agricultural farming”.

The court was told that the matter first came up before the Punjab government on June 25, 2021, when then chief minister of Punjab Usman Buzdar approved a summary to lease out state land in the province for corporate farming, under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

In early February 2022, the proposal was placed before the provincial cabinet.

The cabinet then directed for terms and conditions to be drafted and placed before a ministerial committee, consisting of the Punjab minister for law, agriculture, finance and livestock, amongst other officials.

On October 13, 2022, a member of Punjab’s Board of Revenue (BOR) wrote to the provincial minister of law asking for a ministerial meeting to be convened. The next day, on October 14, 2022, an alleged ministerial committee meeting was held.

However, the documents submitted in court on Monday do not contain any minutes of the meeting, while the minister who participated did not sign the attendance sheet.

At this point, Justice Abid Hussain Chattha asked the government’s counsel for the names of the Punjab ministers who attended the October 14 ministerial meeting.

The counsel replied that Raja Basharat, who was then the minister for cooperative environment protection and parliamentary affairs, and Mohsin Leghari, the minister for finance, were the only two ministers who were in attendance.

“And minister [Raja Basharat] did not even sign [his attendance]?” the judge asked.

The counsel then conceded that the minister did not sign the sheet and that no formal minutes of the meetings were issued either.

“This is very strange,” the judge remarked, adding that as per the attendance sheet before him there were barely any ministers present in the meeting either.

“How can it even be called a ministerial meeting with no ministers,” he added.

Geo.tv reached out to Mohsin Leghari to ask why the minutes for the meeting were not issued and why Raja Basharat did not sign the attendance sheet. Leghari said he could not recall.

In court, Fahad Malik, the lawyer of the petitioner, therefore the Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan, further argued that the October 14 meeting was significant, as it amended the terms and conditions for leasing the land.

On that day, he said, a new section was added to the statement of conditions which allowed for the land to be leased through a single source and without any auction to a department of the federal government, provincial government or its autonomous bodies and institutions.

A few months later after the amendments, in February 2023, the military wrote to the Punjab government asking it to grant up to one million acres of state land for “corporate agricultural farming”.

As per the Joint Venture that was signed between the Governor of Punjab and the Pakistan Army, and seen by Geo.tv, it was agreed to lease out the land for a minimum of 20 years, with a net profit-sharing mechanism, which included 20% of the profit to be used for further research and the remaining profit be split 50-50 between the government of Punjab and the military.

Before adjourning the hearing for May 30, the judge also raised the question that if such a large chunk of state land could constitutionally be granted to any one entity or institution.