SC asks provinces to furnish draft laws for water conservation

Updated June 11, 2019

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The Supreme Court has once again asked provincial governments to come up with draft laws aimed at conservation of precious water resources through uniform policies. — AFP/File
The Supreme Court has once again asked provincial governments to come up with draft laws aimed at conservation of precious water resources through uniform policies. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has once again asked provincial governments to come up with draft laws aimed at conservation of precious water resources through uniform policies.

“We are giving final notice to all the governments to furnish draft laws for conservation of water resources and we expect positive steps from them since it is not a matter of Karachi or Quetta but the entire country,” observed Justice Umar Ata Bandial while heading a three-judge bench which heard a suo motu case relating to conservation of precious water resources on Monday.

The judge cautioned that the court would, otherwise, take strict action against the provincial governments.

“We learnt about the importance of conservation of precious resources when the captain of a cricket team was fined heavily for washing his car,” Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan observed.

Failure will prompt strict action, judge observes in suo motu case relating to conservation of water resources

At the last hearing on April 30, Attorney General Anwar Mansoor had assured the court that he would ensure devising a uniform law to be implemented in the whole country by involving the provinces as well as the secretaries and other stakeholders concerned.

The apex court took up the suo motu case regarding the sale of bottled water by companies after extracting water from underground resources without paying any charge and checking the quality of water for human consumption as well as a number of review petitions against the order of imposing water cess.

Law officers representing the provinces, however, told the apex court that some draft laws had been prepared, but they were still at the stage of being vetted.

The court asked the provinces to furnish the draft laws before the apex court by Friday when the case would be taken up again.

On Monday, the federal government furnished a report before the court to inform it about nominating different individuals as members of the committee to monitor and rationalise the usage of precious underground water.

In this regard, the Sindh government has nominated Additional Advocate General Mohammad Rafiq Rajourvi as its representative in the committee. Secretary of Excise and Taxation Syed Zafar Ali and Additional Advocate General Zahid Yousaf will represent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Assistant Advocates General Balochistan Mohammad Farid Dogar and Mohammad Ayaz Khan Swati will represent their province. Punjab will be represented by its Advocate General Barrister Qasim Ali Chowhan while Prosecutor Saeed Ahmed Waseer will represent Islamabad Capital Territory.

Justice Bandial urged all the parties to come up with proposals suggesting a way forward because they all have agreed that water is a valuable resource which must be conserved. He said charging Rs1 cess per litre was perfectly in order, highlighting that some companies had complained that their businesses were being jeopardised due to the scale of the charge.

He said the purpose of the current proceedings was not to close down any industry, but to develop measures discouraging wastage of water.

Special committee

The court asked Prof Dr Mohammad Ahsan Siddiqui, an environmental scientist who has been appointed head of a special committee on water, to summon a meeting of the committee after nomination of the provinces’ representatives. He has been asked to develop strategies to improve the industry.

Dr Siddiqui has been tasked to propose what should be the correct basis of charge on the extraction of water, especially in view of the complaints raised by some companies.

The special committee will also inform the court who is dragging its feet in the process.

Justice Bandial regretted that the Punjab government was not acting responsibly; highlighting that it was sending bills to industrial units on capacity basis rather than utilisation basis.

A representative for Wasa (Water and Sanitation Agency, Lahore), however, informed the court that the Punjab government was not releasing required funds in this regard.

The court urged beverage companies to pay at least 20 per cent of the bills they have received for utilising water resources.

Meanwhile, senior counsel Barrister Syed Ali Zafar on behalf of Haidri Beverages (Pvt) Ltd submitted a set of recommendations for new industrial practices to save water resources. The recommendations have highlighted efficient measurements by identifying water saving opportunities and subsequent action planning, harnessing water saving and recycling opportunities and creating organisational culture that promotes such practices.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2019