SC forms commission to tackle drinking water shortage in Balochistan's Bhagnari area

Updated December 14, 2018

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The chief justice took suo motu notice on a viral video that showed people and animals of the area drinking contaminated, polluted and unhygienic stagnant water from the same pond outside Bhagnari. ─ Photo by Manzar Elahi
The chief justice took suo motu notice on a viral video that showed people and animals of the area drinking contaminated, polluted and unhygienic stagnant water from the same pond outside Bhagnari. ─ Photo by Manzar Elahi

The Supreme Court while hearing a suo motu case on the shortage of clean drinking water in Balochistan's Bhagnari area on Friday formed a commission tasked with coming up with recommendations for ending the shortage.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar had taken suo motu notice of the non-availability of pure and safe drinking water to the people of Bhagnari, Bolan. The notice was taken on a viral video that showed people and animals of the area drinking contaminated, polluted and unhygienic stagnant water from the same pond outside Bhagnari.

The video was played in court before a three-member bench headed by the top judge today, to which the chief justice said: "Look at this situation, how people are being made to drink poison."

When asked who was representing the provincial government, the advocate general responded that the chief secretary was currently in Iran. The chief justice then suggested calling the chief minister to court.

Justice Nisar asked the deputy commissioner Bolan if the video played in court was authentic, to which the latter replied in the affirmative.The DC said that all the problems in the area were due to a shortage of water, and added that an RO plant would be set up there in two months.

"It is not the government's responsibility to provide clean drinking water, it is the responsibility of the concerned individuals to clean water and give it to citizens," Justice Nisar said. "At the very least, the pond's water could have been been treated."

Despite a total expenditure of Rs2,400 million being spent, not a single RO plant had been set up in Balochistan, the top judge observed, adding that none of the funds was spent on development projects.

Residents of Bhagnari, who appeared in court today, told the bench that their situation is "even worse than Thar".

They told the chief justice, upon questioning, that Bhagnari is 200 kilometres away from Quetta. "Only one road leads to Bhagnari, and it is an hour's journey," they said.

Upon mention of Thar during the hearing, the chief justice summoned MNA Ramesh Kumar to the rostrum.

"Even in Thar, no one seems ready to drink water from an RO plant," Justice Nisar, who had recently visited the area, said. He wondered why a development authority had not been formed for Thar, and directed the Sindh advocate general to ask the chief minister to form a Thar Development Authority.

"Engro has been given a contract in Thar," the chief justice said. "All the money goes into salaries. Do you know how much their directors' salaries are? I have intentionally remained silent."

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"Drinking water is not just an issue in Bhagnari," the chief justice said. "I will summon the Balochistan chief minister, I will summon the entire cabinet if I have to."

The court formed a two-member commission headed by Supreme Court Bar Association President Amanullah Kanrani. Engineer Usman Babai was appointed as the second member of the commission.

The body was ordered to probe the issue, to come up with recommendations for ending the shortage, and to submit a report on the matter within two weeks.

"Make a list of areas in Balochistan where there is water issue," the chief justice told Kanrani, who replied that he could make a report and submit it to court within a week.

Additionally, the court ordered the setting up of an RO plant and submission of a report within two weeks.

Officials from Irrigation and other departments were directed to fully cooperate with the commission.

The case was adjourned for two weeks.

MNA Shahzain Bugti, speaking outside the court, thanked the chief justice for taking notice of Balochistan's issues. He said that the province also faces a shortage of doctors, with only one doctor for every 120 hospital beds.