LAHORE: Punjab Chief  Minister Shahbaz Sharif arrives at the Supreme Court’s Registry on Sunday.—PPI
LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif arrives at the Supreme Court’s Registry on Sunday.—PPI

LAHORE: Expressing his firm belief in democracy, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar said on Sunday the judiciary would ensure free and fair general elections in the country.

“You will have free and fair election. I am making this announcement on behalf of my brother judges and the entire judiciary,” the chief justice told Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif thrice during the hearing of a suo motu case regarding provision of clean drinking water and disposal of untreated waste water and hospital waste.

Mr Shahbaz appeared before a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in compliance with an order issued the other day after the chief justice was informed that 540 million gallons of waste water of Lahore city was being discharged daily into the Ravi without being treated.

At the outset of the hearing, Chief Justice Nisar told the chief minister that the court realised that the Punjab government’s performance was better than of other provinces, but still there were many areas which needed attention.

Chief justice, Shahbaz in witty exchange about who might be next PM

He said the disposal of untreated domestic and industrial waste in River Ravi was very alarming, but it seemed that the matter had never been a priority of the provincial government during its 10-year unbroken stint.

“We do not want to go into the past, but tell us what your government has planned to deal with the issue,” the chief justice asked the chief minister.

Before responding to the CJP’s query, Mr Shahbaz expressed his regard and honour for the courts and said an independent judiciary was vital to democracy. He also mentioned his participation in the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of democracy and independence of judiciary.

At this point an interesting dialogue took place between the chief minister and the chief justice.

When the chief minister said he had always advocated harmony between all state institutions, the CJP, on a lighter note, suggested to Mr Sharif to have the same discourse with other leaders of his party as well.

The courtroom resounded with laughter when CJP Nisar said: “If your party comes to power it will seriously consider making you the next prime minister.”

Mr Shahbaz responded: “You too are after my job.” The CJP retorted: “Not we, you are yourself after you job.”

Reverting to serious business, the chief justice said the court was not happy with outsourcing of different projects of the Punjab government, including the disposal of hospital infectious waste. He also showed concern over transparency in awarding the contracts.

Mr Shahbaz replied: “Transparency is something which is nearest to my heart.” He told the court that his government had saved billions of dollars of the nation by strictly observing transparency in all fields. He claimed that the government had established coal and gas based power projects to produce cheap electricity.

The level of smoke emission from the chimneys of coal power plants had been kept below the international minimum standard, he said when Justice Ijazul Ahsan referred to environmental hazards of coal power projects.

Chief Justice Nisar observed that the standard of emergency wards in public hospitals was not up to the mark. He referred to criticism from some leaders of the PML-N on his visit to a hospital in Lahore but said he did not mind that.

“I also have no objection. You can visit any hospital any time,” the chief minister responded. However, Mr Shahbaz, with a smiling face, sought some time when the chief justice offered him to go on a joint and surprise visit to a public hospital in Lahore right now.

The chief justice observed that the provision of good health facility was a fundamental right and to ensure this right was the responsibility of all institutions.

“I am not here (in the court) to project my government’s performance,” the chief minister said and added, “We have tried our best to serve this province.”

Shahbaz Sharif termed it politicking when the chief justice showed him a bottle containing tap water presented to him by PPP leader Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan the previous day. At this, the chief justice pointed out that arsenic was also found in water supplied to his chamber.

Mr Shahbaz sought three weeks to present a comprehensive plan to address the issues of waste water and incinerators and also expressed his willingness to appear in every hearing, if asked by the court.

The chief justice granted the time sought and asked the chief minister to submit a presentation on the Saaf Pani Project. Before leaving the rostrum, Mr Sharif recited some English verses to show his commitment to serve the people.

CLARIFICATION: The Supreme Court registrar’s office has rejected a statement of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan that CJP Nisar desired that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz form the next government as well.

“It is clarified that the statement is totally false and concocted,” said a press release issued by the registrar office.

Several members of Mr Shahbaz’s cabinet, including Rana Sanaullah and Education Minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan and the provincial government spokesmen Malik Muhammad Ahmad, also attended Sunday’s proceedings.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2018