'Cantt House Lease to Khaleda Highly Illegal'
Friday, 22 October 2010

The High Court has ruled it 'highly illegal' and 'contrary to public interest' for the military chief to give away a cantonment house to Khaleda Zia with the president's approval.

According to a copy of the verdict of Oct 13, obtained by bdnews24.com, the court reasoned that the plot of land belonged to the government and the armed forces did not have any authority to be given away. 'Not even the president can give away public property. The president is not above the law either.'

The High Court on Oct 13 rejected a petition challenging a government order that asked BNP chief Khaleda Zia, widow of former military strongman and president Ziaur Rahman, to vacate her house in Dhaka Cantonment in 30 days.

The verdict says: "The chief of army staff has no authority to lease any public property."

"As regards public property, the president cannot have an absolute or open-ended discretion to dispose of public property to whomsoever he likes at any price he likes and in any manner he likes," said the verdict regarding the president's accountability.

The bench of justices Nazmun Ara Sultana and Sheikh Hassan Arif ruled, after a 22-day hearing, that the government notice is legal and asked the leader of the opposition to vacate the house within 30 days of the ruling.

The house was given to Khaleda on June 13, 1981 through a lease agreement.

The verdict says: "The military authority has no authority to demise such valuable property to private individuals on any consideration. The lease of the property to the petitioner as per decision and order of the chief of army staff, on whatever consideration it might be, has been highly illegal and void."

It says: "The president being the head of state and of the government had power to exercise the sovereign authority of the government. But that power certainly was subject to law. The president was/is not above law. The president also has to abide by the law and has to exercise his power in accordance with law in the interest of the people in the country."

The ruling says: "Giving any property of national importance to any individual undoubtedly goes against the interest of the state and the people."

It mentioned five reasons for pronouncing the government notice legal.

The property, being classed as A-1 military land, was not transferrable according to Cantonment Land Administration (CLA) Rules, 1937; there was no 'reason of a public nature' to lease out the property as per rule 26 of the CLA rules 1937; there was no government decision to demise the property to the petitioner; the whole process of the lease was highly illegal as the decision was taken by the chief of army staff; and it is a property of national importance as it was earmarked as official bungalow for high ranking military officers and used as the official residence of the chief of army staff and also the president.

Citing the background, the verdict says two letters of the case documents prove that the proposal for leasing out the property was started on the order of the chief of army staff as per his desire.

It says footnotes of the letters read 'with reference to telephonic order by the CAS to the DML and C on ninth June, 1981.

"It appears that the proposal for leasing out the property to the petitioner at a premium of Tk 1 only, at an annual rent of Tk 1 only, was initiated as per order of the chief of army staff and the said proposal was sent to the defence ministry for approval of the government," it says.

The ruling says acting president, who was in charge of the defence ministry, gave approval only to the proposal. "Evidently there was no decision of the government to demise the property in question to the petitioner."

The ruling says the government earlier took decision in a meeting of council of ministers on June 12, 1981 to give huge financial benefits including a house in Gulshan area or any other posh area of Dhaka city to Khaleda and her sons.

"But no decision to demise the property in question to the petitioner was taken by the government in the said meeting of councils of minister or any other meeting."

The rule observes that the decision was that of the chief of the army staff and the president. The president, it said, gave the formal approval by himself and notes that it was not taken at any meeting of the council of ministers.

The Directorate of Military Lands and Cantonments handed a notice on Apr 20 last year asking the BNP chief to vacate her cantonment residence.

Khaleda filed the petition with the High Court challenging legality of the government notice asking her to leave the house within 15 days.

The government maintained its stand with two separate notices on May 7 and May 24.

On May 27 last year, the court stayed the notices for three months after the initial hearing.

The final hearing started on June 6 the same year. On Aug 23, the court asked the government to submit all files in relation to the lease of the cantonment house.

The government gave a legal notice to Khaleda for a number of anomalies regarding the allotment within the military zone.

The allegations and irregularities for which the notice was issued include carrying out political activities by Khaleda from the house, which goes against a condition of the allotment, and unauthorised changes and extensions made to the building violating the code of conduct in the military area.

Source: Bdnews24.com

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