KARACHI: Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has expressed displeasure and annoyance on the closure of 110 reverse osmosis (RO) plants in Thar and directed the finance department to release Rs336.7 million immediately to make the RO plants operational.

The chief minister issued this directive while presiding over a meeting here at the CM House on Monday to address the complaint of the people of Thar regarding closure of the RO plants.

This complaint was brought to the knowledge of the chief minister by a committee constituted by him to visit Thar.

The committee comprising provincial ministers Syed Sardar Shah, Imtiaz Shaikh and CM’s Adviser Murtaza Wahab after visiting Thar a day before informed the chief minister that the closure of RO plants was a big issue and must be resolved immediately.

The contracting firm has closed down plants in the desert region for want of payment

The chief minister was informed that there were 600 RO plants in Thar; of them 110 were non-functional because the contractor had not been paid.

The CM asked the chief secretary as to why funds were not released. The CS replied that the approval of the budget was the main reason behind the delay in releasing the funds.

“The provincial assembly passed the budget in the end of the last month and now funds are being disbursed among the departments concerned,” he said, adding: “The funds for RO plants will be released to the contractor within next three days.”

The CM directed him to release Rs336.7m funds to the contractor to make operational the dysfunctional RO plants so that people could get water from Tuesday.

Mr Shah also took notice of the attitude of the contractor and said that they were working with the Sindh government for the last so many years but they chose to close the RO plants just for a delay in release of funds.

Responding to the CM, the contractor said that due to non-availability of funds they could not pay salaries to their employees from June so the employees stopped working.

The chief minister regretted that the people of Thar, who already have suffered a lot due to a drought situation, were not getting the only facility of sweet water made available to them by the government because of the contractor.

Mr Shah was told that there were 2,646 RO plants installed in different districts of the province; of them 2,261 were operational.

Rs4bn excess payment to contractor

It was pointed out in the meeting that the contractor had got around Rs4 billion in excess.

The contractor brushed aside the impression of overpayment and said the dues were still outstanding against the government.

The contractor said that they had taken contracts of all three phases of the RO plants against an amount of Rs13.6bn. He said he had received Rs10.5bn and still Rs3bn was outstanding against the government.

The CM directed the chief secretary to constitute a committee and reconcile all the expenditures being termed as disputed. “This reconciliation must be made within three days,” he said.

He added in case the issue of excess payment was not resolved then a well-reputed auditor would be hired to audit all the payments made so far.

Provincial ministers Saeed Ghani, Mr Shaikh, Advisor Wahab, CS Mumtaz Ali Shah, P&D chairman Mohammad Waseem, principal secretary to CM Sajid Jamal Abro, officials of the Sindh Coal Authority and RO plants’ contracting firm Pak Oasis attended the meeting.

Commercialisation of industrial plots banned

Also on Monday, the chief minister imposed a ban on allotment of industrial plots and their conversion into commercial ones.

He directed the chief secretary to place a policy before the cabinet for further discussion and approval.

He issued this directive while presiding over a meeting regarding commercialisation of industrial plots at SITE Karachi.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2018