Retired Justice Amir Hani Muslim, head of the Supreme Court-mandated water commission, on Monday took the managing director (MD) of the Karachi Water and Sewage Board (KWSB) to task in a tense hearing regarding water shortages in the provincial capital.
"Where did the water go? What is happening in Karachi?" Justice Hani ask the head of the water body, noting that even those residing near hydrants were not getting water while others had to line up before daybreak to secure water supplies.
The commission — holding its proceedings at the Sindh High Court on Monday — also expressed its anger over the water board's top official's absence when proceedings began.
KWSB MD Khalid Sheikh subsequently appeared before Justice Muslim, who asked: "Do you read the newspapers? Do you know that you are being abused?"
Sheikh explained that water was being sent to homes in tankers on people's phone calls and even text messages.
At this, Justice Muslim asked: "Why is there no water in taps at homes? You have destroyed the supply and distribution system!"
The MD said that he understands people's woes, adding that the board was facing problems because of K-Electric as well since the supply of electricity has been intermittent.
"You do nothing until water lines burst and water enters people's homes," Justice Muslim hit back, before asking how sewage water gets mixed with clean water.
He also noted that some areas were receiving water while others were not.
"Those who are [receiving water] should be grateful," the MD responded, which further irritated Justice Muslim.
"What are you saying? Are you doing people a favour by giving them water?" he asked, reminding the top official that water was a basic right.
The retired justice then stated that KWSB valvemen's complete control over the city's water supply would have to be curbed. KWSB valvemen regulate water supply in the city by controlling how much, where and when water flows by manipulating different valves that control supply lines. Recent cases have shed light on alleged corruption by these technicians, with some evidence emerging that their services can be "bought" illegally.
"Did you ever take action against even one valveman?" Justice Hani asked the KWSB MD when told there were 700 in the city.
"I will remove at least 200 people as I leave," he warned.
He directed the official to fix the issue by tonight or he would visit the hydrants at midnight himself to monitor the situation.
Missing employees of Chinese company
The commission informed officials that it had only stopped future payments to the Chinese firm responsible for lifting garbage in Karachi because the company had failed to hire the required number of employees in the city.
It also informed the company's counsel that the salaries of 1,000 employees — who were never hired — would be deducted from its withheld payments.
Justice Muslim also told the representative of the company that the garbage crisis in the city was a result of the missing employees. He told the official to first hire the requisite number of employees and then move on to import equipment from China.
The commission was informed that sweepers were being paid Rs18,000 each by the company, and that the company was saving Rs7.5 million by employing fewer employees than stipulated in the contract.
"Their performance has improved after payments were stopped for four days," Justice Hani remarked, adding that he would ensure things get on the right track.
The commission also ordered the salaries of absent employees of the district management councils (DMCs) to be stopped while also ordering departmental action against them.
Justice Muslim also reprimanded Mayor Karachi Waseem Akhtar for failing his commitment to reconstruct Fatima Jinnah Road, adding that the commission had already ordered the removal of encroachments on the mayor's request.
Akhtar responded that the work was taking time as sewerage lines were being replaced.
Justice Muslim also ordered the cancellation of the contract of a company responsible for construction around the Hala Naka filter plant, Hyderabad, reproaching the additional managing director of the Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) for giving the contract to a company "with no background".
Justice Hani also summoned a report on the appointment of a consultant over the Gujjar Naala and Pichar Naala by the provincial chief secretary on Tuesday. "Municipal Commissioner Asghar Sheikh is not qualified for this position," he said.
Citizens informed the commission that the situation of provision of water in Orangi and Baldia Town was abysmal, with one claiming that Baldia Town gets water for only 12 hours in a year.
The hearing was subsequently adjourned for one day.