ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday barred the federal government from selling the lands of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) with an observation that it belongs to people.

The direction came during the hearing of petitions relating to provident funds of PSM employees taken up by a two-judge Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Maqbool Baqar.

During the hearing, Justice Ahmed ordered the federal government not to sell the PSM land when it was told that the land was being sold to pay salaries of PSM employees as well as to clear their provident funds.

The court was very upset about the performance of the steel mills.

Two-judge bench observes that land belongs to the people

Justice Ahmed recalled how the steel mills used to be a big entity when a number of industries were using steel produced by it.

The loss-making PSM had always been in the news in view of its dismal production record that has cost the state almost a whopping Rs400 billion so far.

In June 2006, a nine-judge Supreme Court bench headed by then chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had reversed the sale of PSM to a three-party consortium.

The court had held the privatisation process for $362 million transaction with Russian-Saudi-Pakistani investors null and void, observing that it was done in indecent haste.

The judgement had come on a petition moved by Barrister Zafarullah Khan of the Watan Party who had challenged the sale of 75 per cent stakes of PSM and handing over of its management control to the said consortium comprising Russian Magnitogorsk, Saudi Al Tuwariqi and Arif Habib Securities.

The judgement had also held that the Privatisation Commission Ordinance, 2000, was not against the constitution, but the process of PSM’s privatisation stood vitiated by acts of omissions and commissions on part of certain state functionaries reflecting violation of mandatory provisions of the law and the rules. But the judgement had conceded that the approval for PSM’s privatisation by the Council of Common Interests in May 29, 1997 continued to hold the field.

Later in 2010 the Supreme Court held through a judgement on the allegations of corruption in the steel mills that corruption in a civilised society was a disease like cancer which if not detected in time was sure to malign the polity of the country leading to disastrous consequences.

Subsequently, the court ordered to hand over the Federal Investigation Agency’s investigations into the affairs of the steel mills to the National Accountability Bureau.

The judgement had come on a suo motu notice taken in September 2009 by former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry over consistent losses the PSM was making as well as discriminatory sale policy that was only benefiting a few industries.

The Supreme Court is seized with a number of petitions relating to the function of PSM, one of which is a restoration application on behalf of Arif Habib Securities with a plea that if the judgement was not reversed, the petitioner will suffer ultimately.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2019