LAHORE: Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on Saturday hinted at invoking Article 6 of the Constitution (high treason) against those opposing the construction of dams in the country.
“I am examining the scope of Article 6 to see whether it could be invoked against opponents of this national cause,” said CJP Nisar at the hearing of a suo motu case against free extraction of groundwater by bottled water companies.
While heading a two-judge bench at the Supreme Court’s Lahore registry seized with the case against the bottled water companies, the CJP made it clear that he had no political agenda or interests nor would he accept any position after retirement or form a political party.
Says he won’t form political party or accept any position after retirement; summons bosses of bottled water companies
“Don’t bring embarrassment upon yourself by offering me any position,” the chief justice said in an attempt to remove misgivings about his post-retirement engagement.
“Had Pakistan not come into being, I would have been working as your munshi [clerk],” the CJP reiterated, this time addressing senior lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, who was present at the rostrum to represent a bottled water company in the case.
Advocate Salman Akram Raja appeared on behalf of another company which sells bottled water.
The CJP expressed dismay over senior lawyers taking briefs of multinational bottled water companies in a public interest case. “I am considering forbidding lawyers from representing these companies, as their owners will be asked to appear in person,” he said, advising the lawyers to assist the court in the matter instead.
The bench later summoned the chief executive officers of all bottled water companies on Sunday (today) with a direction to bring data of past five years about the price they had paid for the extracted water and revenue they had made by selling it.
The bench observed that its prime concern was to determine whether these companies had been paying against the water being extracted from ground for years and whether the water being sold by the companies was “mineral” or not.
The chief justice remarked that bottled water was being delivered at almost every household and the poor were forced to drink from dirty ponds.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan, the other member of the bench, observed that there was a price for using groundwater across the world.
133 water units in five cities
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 extracted groundwater through minimum 30-foot-deep boring and 120-to-410-foot-deep wells. Mr Rizvi said a company had been extracting groundwater from 403-foot-deep well.
The counsel for the company argued that it had been paying charges levied by the government for using groundwater.
Tariff for using groundwater
Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) Managing Director Zahid Aziz said the current tariff for using groundwater was as low as 0.2 paisa per litre. However, he said, the agency had proposed to increase the tariff to 0.75 paisa per litre.
Expressing concern over irrational tariff, CJP Nisar observed that the companies had been using the natural resource almost for free and making huge money by selling it in bottles.
Barrister Ahsan argued that as per an SC judgement groundwater had been declared property of the land owner.
To this, the CJP observed that the land owner could use groundwater for his personal use but not to sell it. He told the counsel that the court could also issue new judgements so that the verdict cited would not be a hurdle in enforcement of fundamental rights.
‘Over 27.6bn litres extracted in five years’
An official of the Environment Protect Agency told the bench that Nestle extracted 14 billion litres of groundwater during the past five years, paid Rs30.5 million as cost and earned Rs30 billion by selling it. Similarly, Coca Cola (Kinley) used 13 billion litres and paid Rs70 million as cost, while Gourmet used 680 million litres and paid Rs5.8 million.
CJP Nisar observed that water was more precious than gold. “We will not close down their businesses, but cannot allow them to rob the nation of its water,” he said.
At one point, CJP Nisar asked Barrister Ahsan to hold a dialogue with the bottled water companies as an elder on behalf of the court to rationalise the tariff for using groundwater. The courtroom echoed with laughter as Mr Ahsan replied: “There is only one baba and that is you.”
Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2018