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September 16, 2018

Opposing dam can be treason

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September 16, 2018

LAHORE: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Saqib Nisar on Saturday warned the critics of dams of a stern action and hinted that Article 6 of the Constitution (high treason) could possibly be invoked against them if they didn’t shun their opposition to the construction of dams in Pakistan in future.

The Supreme Court and the prime minister has set up a joint fund for construction of Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams and appealed to Pakistanis to donate for the cause.

“I have started reviewing Article 6 which deals with high treason,” the chief justice said, adding that he was minutely examining the scope of Article 6 to see whether it could be invoked against opponents of the national cause.

Article 6 of the Constitution states: "Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason."

A two-member bench headed by CJP Justice Saqib Nisar made these remarks during the hearing of a suo motu notice pertaining to the use of underground water by the bottled water companies. Justice Ijazul Ahsan was the other member of the bench.

The chief justice had taken suo motu notice of the exploitation of water resources by bottled water companies operating in the country and sought data regarding their water usage. The bench summoned CEOs of all bottled water companies for Sunday (today) with directions to bring data of last five years about price they paid for the extracted water and revenue they made by selling it.

Hearing the case at the Supreme Court's Lahore Registry on Saturday, Justice Saqib Nisar said the court would see "whether the mineral water being provided by the companies even contains minerals in it or not". He stressed the importance of water and said companies acquired water free-of-cost through installed turbines and then sold it at exorbitant prices.

He said the companies selling water should sit with the government and decide a rate for extracting water.

Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) MD Zahid Aziz stated that the current tariff for using ground water was 0.2 paisa per litre. However, he said, the agency had proposed to increase the tariff as 0.75 paisa per litre.

Expressing concern over irrational tariff, Chief Justice Saqib Nisar observed that the companies had been using the natural resource almost free and making huge money by selling it in bottles.

The top judge said, “Mineral water companies should determine a rate,” and added, “We will have to check if there are any minerals in the mineral water.”

Earlier, Additional Attorney General Nayyar Abbas Rizvi told the bench that there were 82 mineral water units in Karachi, 12 in Islamabad, 15 in Hyderabad, 16 in Sukkur and eight in Lahore. He said these units extract ground water with two ways – one by boring that starts from 30 feet and other by deep well which starts from 120 to 410 feet. Rizvi pointed out that Nestle had been extracting ground water from a 403-foot deep well.

At this, the chief justice remarked that he himself boiled and drank tap water at home because "that is what the people of my nation are drinking".

He observed that a poor person is compelled to drink unhygienic and contaminated water of ponds even today.

Justice Nisar emphasised the value of water by saying that it is now even more expensive than gold. He said people have gotten into the habit of drinking mineral water and money was being made off of a natural resource.

"We will not allow the theft of water under any condition," the top judge warned.

The chief justice observed that the companies making money from water get ahead while common people get left behind, adding that steps need to be taken to improve the lives of the common man.

The court subsequently ordered the CEOs of all major companies selling mineral water — including Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Gourmet — to appear before the bench at 11am on Sunday (today).

"I will tell you one thing, I have no political agenda or interests at all other than to serve the nation," Justice Nisar said, adding that he would continue to work for the welfare of the people after retirement.

“After I retire, do not be ashamed of yourself by offering me any alternate post or designation,” he continued.

"Had Pakistan not created, I probably would have been serving as Aitzaz Ahsan’s secretary [munshi] today," he said, referring to the senior lawyer who was representing Nestle.

Advocate Salman Akram Raja appeared on behalf of Pepsi Company, which also sell bottled water.

Chief Justice Nisar also showed annoyance over senior lawyers for taking brief of multinational bottled water manufacturing companies in a public interest case. “I am considering forbidding lawyers to represent these companies as their owners would be asked to appear in person,” the chief justice added, advising the lawyers to assist the court in the matter instead.

Nestle’s counsel Barrister Ahsan told the bench that the company had been paying charges for using ground water levied by the government.

Ahsan argued that as per a Supreme Court judgment the ground water had been declared property of the land owner.

To this, the chief justice observed that the land owner could use ground water for his personal use not for selling. He told the lawyer that the court could also issue new judgments so the judgment cited by him (Ahsan) would not be a hurdle in enforcement of fundamental rights.

An official of Environment Protect Agency (EPA) informed the court that Nestle extracted 14 billion litres of ground water during the last five years, paid Rs 30.5 million as cost and earned Rs 30 billion by selling it. Similarly, Coco Cola (Kinley) used 13 billion litres and paid 70 million as cost while Gourmet used 680 million litres and paid Rs5.8 million.

During the course of hearing, Justice Nisar asked Barrister Ahsan to assume the role of “baba”/elder person on behalf of the court and hold dialogue with the bottled water companies to rationalize the tariff for using ground water.

The courtroom burst into laughter as Ahsan smiled and said to the chief justice, “There is only one baba and that is you.”

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