Govt Bound To Provide IHC's Judges Housing To Ensure Judicial Independence

IHC turns down female petitioner's request to restore government housing, citing cadre entitlements

Govt Bound To Provide IHC's Judges Housing To Ensure Judicial Independence

Judges of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) shall be allotted government accommodation under a Presidential Order, the court ruled on Friday.

The 66-page ruling penned by Justice Babar Sattar came as it dismissed an application filed by female government officer Sumaira Nazir Siddiqui, who had moved the court, seeking to restore her entitlement to government accommodation. 

In the order, the high court held that a letter to the petitioner cancelling their allotment of government accommodation suffers from no infirmity. It added that the allotment made previously to the officer was rightly cancelled as she was not entitled to it under rule 3(4) of the Accommodation Rules.

Moreover, the court observed that the allocation of official residences to judges of the IHC is made under clause 21 of a Presidential Order and not under regular Accommodation Rules. 

"Secretary, Ministry of Housing shall ensure that neither the list of allottees maintained under Accommodation Rules nor GWLs (General Waiting Lists) and priority lists prepared for purposes of the Accommodation Rules include names of Judges of IHC," the court ruled as it sought to avoid duplication of purpose.

The order noted that in August 2023, during a hearing, the Attorney General for Pakistan had conceded that allotment of residences to judges was subject to provisions of a presidential order, the High Court Judges (Leave, Pension and Privileges) Order, 1997, read together with the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. 

The Attorney General further submitted that judges are entitled to government accommodation from the day of their appointment to the last day of their service. The attorney general noted that failure to provide residences to judges by the Executive, in accordance with the Presidential Order, impinges on the independence of the judiciary.

The court, however, ruled that accommodations which fall vacant on the orders of courts should not be allocated to judges of IHC. 

The court further observed that the federal government has been alloting accommodations under the Accommodation Rules in breach of its rule 6. But the government neither transparently maintains GWLs of various categories of accommodations under the rules, nor has it put together a priority list per rule 6(7), which allocates houses to government officers of basic pay scale (BPS) grade 22.

Regarding the cancellation of allotment letters, the court has observed that issuing a subject-to-vacancy allotment letter was illegal as such allotment letters have no basis in law nor do the Accommodations Rules support them. 

"Subject-to- vacancy allotment letters are a means to obscure the priority to be accorded to Federal Government Servants (FGSs) for allotment of accommodation in various categories of accommodation under the Accommodation Rules. Consequently, all subject-to-vacancy allotment letters are set aside for being unlawful," the court held.

The court directed the Ministry of Housing to prepare the GWLs after authenticating data of federal government servants placed on these lists in various categories and verify the data against data maintained by NADRA and the Establishment Division.

The court also directed the secretary of the housing ministry to upload priority lists on the ministry's website along with the list of accommodations in each category, reflecting the date of vacation for each home.

Controversy of Senate chairman's brother 

The court also referred to the recent matter regarding Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani's brother, Razik Sanjrani, who had been allotted government accommodation in the federal capital despite not being an entitled government official.

Razik had been allocated a government house classified as a Type-1 reserved for BPS-22 officers. Razik, however, was allocated the house as the managing director of Saindak Metals Limited in December 2018 under Accommodations Rules 12 until 2046.
The high court observed that neither the law officer nor the housing ministry's secretary could explain how Razik was entitled to the accommodation for such an extended period.
"The officials of the Estate Office were also unable to explain as to how at the age of 33/34 Razik qualified as a BS-22 officer entitled to be granted Category Type-I accommodation," the court observed.

The high court has directed to bring the matter of Sanjrani to the attention of the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of the Petroleum Division, the Accountant General for Pakistan and the chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission of Pakistan.

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain