PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court has issued a stay order stopping the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited from acting against nine leading cotton mills for the recovery of installments of the Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC) and arrears.

A bench consisting of Justice Ikramullah Khan and Justice Ijaz Anwar issued notices to the petroleum secretary and Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority director general giving them 15 days to respond to a petition jointly filed by the Royal Textile Mills and eight other mills.

The next hearing was fixed for Nov 29.

The mills had filed a petition with the Ograchallenging the issuance of ‘inflated’ installment bills issued by SNGPL to them on account of GIDC and its arrears on the ground that the petitioners’ mills produces yarn which was export oriented items thus could not pass on the GIDC to the consumers and they were not liable to be charged with the GIDC.

The petitioners insisted that as the Ogra had been non-functionaldue to the non-appointment of some of its members, they had to approach the high court for stopping the respondents, including SNGPL, from issuing further GIDC installment bills until the matter was decided by the regulator.

The petitioners also requested the court to order the appointment of the Ogra members in accordance with the Orga Ordinance, 2002.

Asks ministry, Ogra to respond to petition on ‘inflated’ installments

Barrister Ibrahim Khan Afridi appeared for the petitioners and said initially, the GIDC Act, 2011 was enacted through a money bill introduced in the National Assembly, whereby the cess as fee was imposed on industrial and commercial consumers of natural gas.

He said the said Act was challenged by industrial and commercial consumers of natural gas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the Peshawar High Court, which declared the Act unconstitutional in 2013.

The lawyer added that the appeals of the federal government were also dismissed by the Supreme Court.

The lawyer said the government later re-introduced the GIDC with retrospective effect through an ordinance in 2014, which was converted into the GIDC Act, 2015, after the approval of Parliament.

He said the levy in question was upheld by the high court on May 31, 2017.

The lawyer added that the Supreme Court also declared the GIDC Act in accordance with the Constitution with certain directions on Aug 13, 2020.

He said after the apex court’s judgment, the SNGPL issued inflated bills, which also carried GIDC and arrears, to textile mills.

The lawyer said the bills in question were challenged in the high court, which on Sept 16, 2020, directed the petitioners to approach the Ogra, the competent forum, for the redressal of grievances.

He said the petitioners as directed by the high court moved the Ogra but the matter was still pending decision as the regulator was non-functional due to some vacancies of its members.

The lawyer said in the meantime, the SNGPL issued the second GIDC installment bill to the petitioners though the matter was pending with the Ogra.

He said the case of his clients was covered under Section 8(2) of GIDC Act, which clearly exempted industrial consumers except fertiliser fuel companies from the levy of GIDC.

The counsel for SNGPL objected to the petition and said the issue had already been decided by the Supreme Court and therefore, the petitioners had no right to approach the high court yet again.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2020