ISLAMABAD: Tuesday was another day of probing questions by the judges and inadequate responses by the government during the hearing of the Gas Infras­tructure Development Cess (GIDC) case in the Supreme Court.

The day began with Advocate Raashid Anwer, representing a section of textile mill owners, and Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan making a request for adjournment as they wanted to negotiate a settlement.

But senior counsel Makhdoom Ali Khan, representing a section of the CNG sector, opposed the request after which the bench also declined the request, saying that it would proceed on merits unless all parties to the case came up with an agreement. The counsel submitted that it was a constitutional issue and there could be no agreement.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Mushir Alam had taken up the case related to the levy of the GIDC since 2015.

A deputy secretary of the finance ministry conceded before the court that the statements made by the government to parliament in every budget from 2015 onwards that GIDC was a tax were mistakes and they were prepared to reverse it.

At this Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, a member of the bench, wondered how the government could take this so casually and what actions had been taken against the persons who had made the mistake.

The judge observed that it was clear that the government made a decision to collect and allocate the GIDC as tax and now it was for the court to decide what were going to be the constitutional consequences of this act.

Justice Shah inquired how much recovery was made under the GIDC, for what purposes this money was allocated and what was the quantum of disbursements. The government official replied that the money was collected for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) Pipeline, Iran-Pakistan (IP) Pipeline, LNG and ancillary projects.

When the official sought to give estimated figures, Justice Alam asked when the estimates were prepared.

The official replied that he did not have any idea and that the project director knew the details.

Justice Faisal Arab, another member of the bench, observed that it appeared that the official had come unprepared since he had some figures but no dates.

Justice Alam wondered whether anyone was in charge of the project and whether anyone had any idea for how long would the government continue to collect GIDC from the people before it did any work at all. What would be the revised estimates since inflation impacted the amounts collected during the last ten years, he added.

Justice Arab also asked whether the government could now revise the estimates when the costs had gone up because of incompetence.

The attorney general intervened to say that the costs today would be much higher, adding that the court was seized with the constitutionality of the GIDC act and not with its implementation.

The AG argued that the IP project had been stopped and the TAPI project also could not be commenced in the last few years because of insurgencies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and civil war in Afghanistan. Since now these problems had been overcome, work on the TAPI project would be restarted.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2020