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February 11, 2018

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SC summons Shahbaz over polluted water

LAHORE: The Supreme Court on Saturday sought personal appearance of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif after it came to fore that millions of gallons of contaminated water is being drained into River Ravi daily.

A three member bench led by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar was hearing a suo motu notice into provision of clean water at the Supreme Court’s Lahore Registry. The chief minister was summoned after the apex court expressed its reservations over a report presented on dumping 540 MGD of untreated waste into River Ravi. Justice Manzoor Ahmed Malik and Justice Ijazul Ahsan were the other members of the bench.

At the outset of the hearing, the court-appointed commission, Ayesha Hamid Advocate, presented a report on clean water. The report contained shocking revelations, including a detailed study which says 540 million gallons of polluted water is being dumped into the river on a daily basis. It stated that 480 million gallons of sewerage and 60 million gallons from other sources was also being drained into the river. This irked the chief justice who remarked, “Lahore is the heart of Pakistan. Look what is being dumped into the heart.”

The chief justice said if the court could summon the Sindh chief minister on the issue, why it couldn’t do the same to his counterpart in Punjab. He ordered Shahbaz to appear instantly to explain as to what steps have been taken to treat the sewerage. “The Punjab chief minister should come to court and tell us what the provincial government is doing to address this issue.” He asked Chief Secretary Capt (retd) Zahid Saeed to confirm whether Shahbaz was available to appear before the court, saying, “It is a prerogative of the chief minister. In case he is not willing to appear, the court will have to issue some other order.” “The chief minister should come today if he can, if not, he may appear before the court tomorrow,” said the chief justice. The chief secretary tried to contact the chief minister in compliance with the court’s order. Later, he informed the court that Shahbaz could not appear before the court on Saturday (yesterday) due to some official engagements. Following that, the court ordered the chief minister to appear in person on Sunday (today) at 11.00 am.

The bench also expressed dissatisfaction over not installing a treatment plant. “The court will fix the responsibility for not installing the plant,” the chief justice remarked. The bench also directed the chief secretary to submit report on provision of clean water supply within seven days. Separately, the chief justice came hard on Punjab Food Authority DG Noorul Amin Mengal after he disclosed that 1,148 companies were involved in the business of bottled water and most of them were unregistered. “How could they have been functioning for years with impunity, but no action was taken against them,” the chief justice remarked.

Mengal said they had introduced an online application for companies to apply for licence and they could start producing bottled water after submission of the required documents. The court wondered how a company could be allowed to do business without securing licence just like that, expressing serious concerns over the performance of Mengal. The court threw a slew of questions at Mengal but he was unable to give satisfactory answers. The chief justice remarked that these companies are selling water injurious to human health, asking the chief secretary to shut down the business of unregistered companies. Mengal informed the court that water samples of 107 companies were taken and 86 of them had failed to meet the required standards. Resultantly, those 86 companies had been closed down in compliance with the court’s order. “If the same ratio is applied to the 1,148 companies, water of more than 900 companies would be found below standard,” the chief justice added and asked the chief secretary to remove Mengal if he fails to show performance. The court ordered chief secretary to submit a comprehensive report after securing samples of all the companies as well as bring them under a proper licence regime.

The court also conducted a hearing on the matters related to the condition of government hospitals in Punjab. The chief justice has directed the provincial health administration to present a thorough report on the problems at government hospitals. “I want to improve the conditions of government hospitals in Punjab, especially those that I have had the opportunity to visit. Emergency facilities at every hospital should be world class,” Justice Saqib said.

The officials of public hospitals submitted a report on the current condition of the hospitals. Justice Nisar emphasised the need to improve the healthcare system in Lahore and ordered officials to ensure that the best facilities were available to patients. "I want you to work on improving the healthcare system with the same passion with which the Supreme Court is looking into this issue," he told the officials. "This is your responsibility.” "Children that are two-month-old are unable to get proper health care," he noted. The chief justice also warned that he would visit The Children's Hospital to assess its condition himself.

When he asked if the hospitals had taken any measures to improve their condition, a representative from the Services Hospital said the administration has increased the bed capacity from 400 to 614. Noting that the public hospitals lack resources, the chief justice ordered that a report on the shortcomings being faced should be submitted in the next hearing on February 24.

Hearing another suo motu case pertaining to closure of roads in various parts of the provincial capital, the chief justice rejected the report submitted by the Punjab IGP and expressed anger over the barriers outside the chief minister’s Model Town residence. “We can’t allow confinement of citizens in the name of security,” he told IGP Arif Nawaz. “Tomorrow your CM has to appear and the roads will also be opened.”

Furnishing report on closure of roads, the IGP told the bench that roads were closed due due to security threats on the basis of intelligence reports. However, he said the residents of the closed areas were allowed entry. On this, the chief justice remarked that the police themselves prepare such reports.

Also on Saturday, the Supreme Court directed the director general Lahore Development Authority to furnish a comprehensive report on the land acquired for its new project LDA City located on the Ferozepur Road. The chief justice questioned the acquisition of thousands of acres of land with the help of private partner like Paragon City who, according to him, are political people enjoying power. “The DG will have to tell the court how private people are involved in it and identify the law which allowed him to do so,” he added.

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