April 3, 2023
By Rehan Piracha
The protracted land litigation with the district administration of a former general-turned-land developer has blocked access to an ancient Buddhist site in Taxila for over a decade. The Dharmarajika Stupa dates back to the third century B.C. and is accredited for being one of the earliest Buddhist monuments and one of the eight largest Buddhist stupas in South Asia.
Moazzam Ali, who is a former major general and is now known as a property developer, had purchased land near the Dharmarajika Stupa, which is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site and is protected under the Antiquities Act 1975 – and constructed a boundary wall that blocked access to the stupa.
In 2018, two citizens – Abdul Malik Khan and Saeed Ahmed Wahla, through their late counsel Asma Jahangir – filed a petition under Article 199 of the Constitution before the Lahore High Court (LHC), requesting for the boundary wall constructed around the historic site to be declared illegal. The petition stated that the illegal blockade had made it a hassle for local and foreign tourists to reach the ancient Buddhist site.
In its judgment in September 2021, the LHC directed the Rawalpindi commissioner to ascertain whether the property developer had encroached upon in violation of the Antiquities Act, 1975, and the Work of Defense Act 1903.
The commissioner, in its order issued on April 24, 2022, stated that the developer had committed violations of the Antiquities Act by blocking public access to the Dharmarajika Stupa, directing the tehsil administration to remove the encroachment/wall structure on the state land.
Speaking with Voicepk, Taxila Assistant Commissioner Fazail Mudassar said the commissioner’s order has not been implemented because needed to acquire land from the property developer to build a proper parking lot for foreign and local visitors to the Dharmarajika Stupa. “In December 2022, the district administration issued a notification under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act for the acquisition of land measuring 114 Kanals for building a parking lot around the Buddhist stupa,” he said.
However, the property developer approached LHC against the commissioner’s order, stating that the direction was passed without providing him any opportunity for a hearing. In February, the court directed the commissioner to hear the review petition of the property developer, putting a halt in the proceedings for land acquisition of the parking lot around the stupa.
FEAR OF INFLUENCE
Local residents expressed fear that the former general, a course-mate of former army chief Gen (retired) Qamar Javed Bajwa, is using his connections in the government and the administration to prevent the acquisition of his land for the parking lot. Other landowners in the area have alleged that the property developer lodged cases of land disputes with nearby residents to force them to sell their properties to him at through away price.
Rana Mubashar, one of the landowners, said Moazzam Ali filed a land division case against him after buying land adjacent to his developed farmhouse in the area.
“The property developer Moazzam Goraya wanted his barren land to be shown as Rana Mubahsir’s land and a developed farmhouse of Rana Mubashir as his in the land records,” Rana Mubashar told Voicepk.net. He also lodged a case against a former government employee as well as other owners of poultry farms to terrorize residents in the area, he added.
Acting on the court instructions, the Rawalpindi Commissioner fixed the property developer’s revision petition on April 4. “The commissioner in three earlier orders has ruled that the property dealer has encroached upon state land and ordered the demolition of the wall that is blocking access to the Dharmarajika Stupa,” Rana Mubashar said, adding that the administration has yet to demolish the wall and retrieve state land encroached by the influential property developer.
According to Ans Mashood, a lawyer with the AGHS Legal Aid Cell who took over the case after Asma Jahangir passed away, property developer Moazzam Ali has resisted court and administration orders against his encroachment of state land adjacent to the ancient Buddhist site.
“After the orders, the former general filed frivolous applications at different forums such as the Punjab ombudsman to further prolong the litigation,” he said. Mashod said he would be appearing before the commissioner during the hearing of the review petition on April 4. The property developer also lodged a case with the Punjab Ombudsman in order to prolong litigation and stop the administration’s acquisition of his land for the parking area,” he said.
He said the path to the stupa now went through his land, adding that he erected a gate on his land to prevent addicts and trespassers from using it. “The gate was open to visitors and Archaeology employees to visit the stupa,” he added.