ISLAMABAD: Eighty-four per cent of the population does not have access to safe drinking water in a country where commercial banks posted windfall profits exceeding Rs475 billion in three years, the Senate was told on Tuesday.

Quoting a study, Provision of Safe Drinking Water, conducted by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), Minister for Science and Technology Rana Tanvir Hussain said only 72pc of water supply schemes were found to be functional, and 84pc of those had supplied water that was not fit for consumption.

The water from 14pc of water supply sources in Sindh and Punjab were found to be heavily contaminated with arsenic, well above the permissible limit of 50 parts per billion, Mr Hussain revealed.

He said Rs279 million had been spent on the project — Provision of Safe Drinking Water — over the past four years.

As part of the project, six regional water quality laboratories, under the PCRWR, had been upgraded and 17 new water quality testing laboratories had been established at the district level.

Funds were also used on the capacity building of 3,000 professionals associated with water supply agencies, Mr Hussain said.

Law Minister Zahid Hamid informed the Senate that commercial banks in the country had earned profits exceeding Rs472bn in the last three years.

The data shared with the senators showed an incremental rise in profits over three years — Rs115bn in 2013, Rs164bn in 2014 and Rs193bn in 2015.

Of the total profit earned by commercial banks in three years, four banks had earned profits exceeding Rs270bn. At the top is the Habib Bank Limited with a profit of Rs88bn, followed by MCB with Rs71bn, the United Bank Limited with Rs66bn and the Allied Bank Limited with Rs44.77 billion. The First Women Bank and the SME Bank were the only two banks that had suffered losses in three years.

The Senate took up the issue of the acquittals of culprits involved in torching Christians’ homes in Lahore.

Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani directed the government to seek a report on the incident in which houses in a Christian majority colony in Lahore had been set ablaze. He also asked if the provincial government would prefer an appeal against the acquittals, besides a copy of the judgement.

The issue was raised by Senator Aitzaz Ahsan who said that the prosecution had not pursued the case properly, which was why all the accused had been acquitted.

“What would have been our reaction if this had happened to Muslims in Chicago or elsewhere,” he remarked. He said this would provide an opportunity to those pointing fingers at Pakistan and accusing it of prejudice.

Hafiz Hamdullah of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl told the Senate that 150 girls had been recently abducted from Rawalpindi and sent to Afghanistan.

He said such incidents must be taken notice of and the culprits behind this must be traced and punished.

Noman Wazir of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf raised the issue of the power sector’s circular debt which has, once again, reached Rs560bn. He recalled that Rs480bn circular debt had been cleared in 2013.

The Senate chairman asked him to bring a calling attention notice so that a response could be sought from the minister concerned. The house will meet again on Wednesday (today) at 3pm.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2017

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