ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday disposed of the petitions of oil marketing companies challenging the inquiry proceedings into fuel shortage, but reminded the government not to exceed its lawful mandate.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah disposed of the petitions of Attock Oil Company and M/s Zoom (Private) Limited, with the observation that it is within the exclusive domain of the executive authorities to identify the factors and persons responsible for the crisis.
According to the petitions, the oil marketing companies were aggrieved on account of the proceedings of the committee constituted by the Ministry of Energy (Power Division) vide notification dated June 8, 2020. The petitioners argued that the power division was not competent to issue the notification; therefore, the proceedings were without lawful authority and jurisdiction.
The committee was constituted to probe fuel shortage following the announcement of reduction in prices.
Additional Attorney General Tariq Mehmood Khokhar told the IHC that the committee was constituted to inquire and probe into the factors that had led to fuel shortages, particularly whether hoarding or black marketing had contributed thereto.
IHC reminds federal govt not to exceed its lawful mandate in fuel crisis inquiry
The committee was also mandated to verify the stocks of the marketing companies, he said. The committee was, therefore, given a specific task that essentially involved collation of facts and on the basis thereof to identify the reasons which had led to the crisis of fuel shortages and persons/entities who may have been responsible in this regard.
The counsel for the petitioners earlier argued that the activities of the petitioner companies were regulated under the statute The Pakistan Oil (Refining, Transportation, Storage and Marketing) Rules, 2016. The counsel maintained that the Ministry of Energy (Power Division) was not competent to issue notification, therefore, the proceedings were without lawful authority and jurisdiction.
The court noted that it was an admitted position that after an announcement was made regarding reduction of prices there was a sudden acute shortage of fuel/petroleum products throughout the country and which persisted in some parts till date.
The consumers, particularly the general public, had been severely affected and their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights had been prejudiced. There was also no cavil to the proposition that the executive branch of the state was responsible as well as answerable to the people for such a crisis, the court observed.
“It was, therefore, inevitable that the executive branch of the state should have responded diligently in order to ensure uninterrupted supply and availability of fuel/ petroleum products to the general public at the notified reduced prices. It was also within the exclusive domain of the executive authorities to identify the factors and persons responsible for the crisis,” the court ruled.
The order further stated: “Be it inflation or availability of essential commodities to the general public, it falls within the exclusive domain of the executive branch of the state. In the case of the petitions in hand, the executive branch of the state had the exclusive responsibility to ensure uninterrupted supply of fuel to the public at the reduced prices. The sudden disappearance of fuel from the market and queuing up of agitating consumers at the gas stations was indeed a serious concern for the executive authorities.”
The IHC stated: “We as judges are not representatives of the people nor accountable for those functions that fall within the exclusive jurisdiction and domain of the executive branch of the state. In such matters intervention would only be justified if an aggrieved petitioner can demonstrably show violation of constitutionally guaranteed rights,” Chief Justice Minallah noted.
Moreover, the court observed, the interests of the public at large would prevail over individual rights or interests. The order explained that the executive was answerable to the people for performance of its duties and functions assigned under the scheme of the Constitution and, therefore, it should be free from unnecessary interference and intrusions, thus warranting exercise of judicial restraint.
The court disposed of the petitions saying that since it was a fact-finding inquiry and the government had not yet taken any action against the OMCs, therefore, the court could not interfere in this matter at this stage. The chief justice also warned federal government officials not to make unnecessary statements regarding the inquiry proceedings.
Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2020