Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal and Karachi police chief Mushtaq Ahmed Mahar appeared before the Supreme Court on Wednesday for a hearing on a plea concerning provision of clean drinking water and safe environment in the province.
Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, a three-judge bench at the SC Karachi registry is hearing the constitutional petition of Shahab Usto, a concerned citizen and lawyer, against the provincial government’s failure to provide potable water, better sanitation, environment and associated issues.
The court on Monday had directed Shah to appear in court as the provincial government’s “satisfactory reply” on the issue of provision of clean drinking water and safe environment was not forthcoming.
The court had also directed Kamal, who was the mayor from 2005 to 2010, to appear in court to clarify who he had asked before allotting the 50 acres reserved for the Mehmoodabad treatment plant allegedly to some misplaced people.
When the provincial chief minister appeared at the rostrum at the outset of the hearing on Wednesday, the chief justice remarked that the court had summoned him [Shah] with great respect and dignity.
"Our objective is only to rid people of this polluted water," he said.
Kamal, who is the chief of Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), is accompanied at the court by PSP leader Anis Qaimkhani. Advocate general Sindh, the home secretary and managing director of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) are also present in the court.
Justice Nisar said he was deeply saddened by the state of affairs and the court wanted to change the situation.
"If you say, you and I can travel to Mithi and both of us will drink a glass of water from the stream," he said.
A documentary film was then shown in the court about the issue of unsafe drinking water.
The chief justice told Shah the provincial government could seek help from the court if need be and "we will fully assist you".
Justice Nisar said he wished PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was present in the court to witness the situation.
"Bilawal Bhutto would also find out the state of affairs in Larkana," he remarked.
Addressing the chief minister, Justice Faisal Arab said, "You were elected [by the people] to solve issues," adding that people turn towards court due to failure of the administration. "The court has no desire of using the administration's authority."
The apex court is ready to lend its support to the provincial government, but the chief minister will have to give a guarantee of accomplishing the task, the chief justice remarked.
Justice Nisar inquired as to how much water from the Indus River falls into the sea annually and why this water could not be used to meet the needs of Karachiites.
The chief minister responded that the level of water in the Indus River is very low.
"Badin and Thatta are being destroyed due to shortage of water," Shah said.
When the CJP proposed a six-month deadline to solve the unsafe drinking water issue, Shah said the task could not be accomplished in six months.
At this, justice remarked that the administration should act and an extension could be given if asked for.
The chief minister assured the court that he would devise an executable plan and fully implement it, but requested time to resolve the issue.
Being the chief minister of Sindh, you will have to submit an affidavit to the court stating the time required for the task, the CJP told Shah. He recommended that Shah should not simply form a committee and leave it on its own.
Shah said he would give the court a time-frame about the plan of action, methods, finances and resources needed for the job.
"You received votes from the people, and you are the one who is answerable [to them]," the CJP said, addressing Shah.
Shah informed the court that Rs3.5 billion are required to clean the effluent that falls into the Indus River.
He said he would try to solve the issues that he has committed to, but the task that belongs to the executive should be left for the executive to do.
"Some court decisions are impacting the performance of the executive," Shah alleged.
The CJP offered Shah to use the court's "shoulders" to resolve the issues at hand.
Justice Nisar asked Shah where he resided — at his house or the Chief Minister House.
The chief minister responded that he lives in the Cantonment area and gets water at his house via tankers.
"Shah sahib, rid the lives of Karachiites from tankers," the CJP urged the chief minister.
Justice Nisar reminded Shah that under the Constitution, the water and sanitation issues fall into the domain of fundamental rights.
"The court has the authority to intervene if the executive does not fulfill its duties," he stressed.
Justice Nisar said the court will not interfere in the powers enjoyed by the executive and neither was the court expecting overnight improvement.
The court directed the Sindh government to submit a comprehensive plan about the provision of clean drinking water and treatment of sewerage to the court within 15 days.
'Providing water is local govts' job'
Former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal claimed before the court that Karachi is being provided 1.51 per cent of the water from Sindh's share.
Kamal said providing safe water and solving sewerage issues is the job of local governments — not the chief minister's.
He said the population of Karachi will exceed 30 million by 2020 and the city demands 1,250 million gallons of water on a daily basis.
Kamal recommended that water supply projects K-I, II and IV be started simultaneously to save costs.
He said he had drafted the legal master plan of Karachi in 2007, which did not exist earlier.
Addressing the issue of Mehmoodabad treatment plant land, Kamal denied allotting the land to anyone, saying he didn't have the powers to do so.
The 149.1 acre land was allotted with the approval of the City Council, he said.
The court directed the local bodies secretary to submit a detailed report about the allotment of land meant for Mehmood treatment plant for residential purposes.
'91% water is contaminated'
The bench had earlier constituted a judicial commission, headed by Justice Iqbal Kalhoro of the Sindh High Court, to probe the government’s failure in providing safe water to the people of the province.
Advocate Usto had informed the judges during the last hearing that the people in 29 districts across the province were drinking contaminated water which was absolutely not fit for human consumption.
“Ninety-one per cent water in Karachi, 85pc in Hyderabad, 88pc in Larkana and 78pc in Shikarpur is contaminated,” he had said, while quoting the reports of the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources.
Waste from hospitals, industries and municipalities was disposed of in rivers across Sindh without proper treatment as the three treatment plants were also not functional, he had added.
“Those who are responsible for this, why aren’t they doing anything?" the CJP had questioned, asking that those who went to people and promised them that they would do this and that, why had they turned a blind eye towards this.
“Such people make big claims but they cannot supply clean water to the nation. Is there anyone who can solve the problems of the nation?”
“We are not the people who bear any grudge against anyone,” the CJP had said, adding that the judges only wanted solution to the problem.
CJP Nisar had said if the issue was not resolved this way, then the court would issue orders. “We can’t stay quiet over the prevailing danger to human lives."