The Lahore High Court (LHC) has stopped the caretaker government of Punjab from handing over at least 45,267 acres of land in three districts – Bhakkar, Khushab, and Sahiwal – of the province to the Pakistan Army for “Corporate Agriculture Farming”, it emerged on Friday. On Thursday, a two-page verdict was issued by Judge Abid Hussain Chattha over a petition filed by Ahmad Rafay Alam on March 28 on behalf of Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan. About two weeks ago, the Punjab government had signed an agreement to hand over the land to the army, referring to a notification dated Feb 20, 2023 and a joint venture agreement of March 8. According to the verdict, the LHC has barred the Punjab caretaker government from extending any “lease of state land” for the above-mentioned purpose as per the government’s notification. Noting that the points raised by the petitioner “need consideration”, the LHC issued notices to the respondents for May 9 and asked them to submit a response by then. It also sent notices to the Attorney-General for Pakistan and Punjab Advocate General Shan Gul. The petition filed by Alam had named Punjab Governor Muhammad Balighur Rehman, the Punjab Board of Revenue, the Punjab agriculture secretary, the Punjab forest, wildlife and fisheries secretary, the Punjab irrigation secretary and the Punjab livestock & dairy development secretary among the respondents. It had asked that the LHC declare the caretaker government “cannot take major policy decisions” and also declare the Feb 20 notification as “illegal, null and void”. Citing a letter dated March 10 that was issued to the Punjab Board of Revenue, it had further asked that the “handing over of any and all properties/land by and between the respondents” be declared “illegal, null and void” as well. It had argued that the transfer of land was unlawful because Punjab Governor Muhammad Balighur Rehman “is not vested with any power to sanction the said notification”, the LHC verdict recalled. The verdict stated the petitioner – citing Section 230 (functions of caretaker government) of the Election Act 2017 – had said the “mandate and scope of the caretaker government is limited to perform day-to-day functions of the government and is specifically barred to take policy decisions of permanent nature”. The petition had also contended that the constitutional mandate restricts Army to perform functions of external and internal security and does not extend to “Corporate Agriculture Farming” – the intended purpose as per the government’s notification.