PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court has directed the energy ministry to respond to a petition against the shelving of the supply of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to Lower Chitral district.

A bench consisting of the Chief Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan and Justice Shakeel Ahmad fixed June 21 for the next hearing into the petition filed by Chitral’s social activist Razitu Billah, requesting the court to order the immediate gas supply to Chitral valley’s Drosh, Ayun Broze and Chitral Town areas through the installation of an LPG air-mix plant.

The petitioner requested the court to declare illegal the energy ministry’s Jan 12, 2021, order for the shelving of that initiative.

He contended that the LPG project was vital for the survival of forests in the region and if the alternate source of energy was not provided to the residents, the felling of trees for fuel would cause those forests to vanish.

Social activist tells PHC that initiative vital for protection of local forests

The respondents in the petition are the federal government through the secretary of the energy ministry (petroleum division), SNGPL managing director and its Peshawar general manager, Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority chairman, chairperson of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet, forest, environment and wildlife secretary, and Lower Chitral’s deputy commissioner.

During hearing, the chief justice observed that the court won’t make any compromise on the cause of environmental protection and the government should explain why the LPG project was abandoned.

The petitioner’s counsel, Sher Haider Khan, insisted that around Rs500 million had been spent on the Chitral LPG project and the decision of the federal government to shelve it would not only cause a heavy loss to the exchequer but also contribute to environmental degradation in the district.

He said in 2018, the federal and provincial governments had jointly resolved to protect the forests, wildlife and tourism in Chitral valley by checking deforestation, soil erosion, and cutting of trees for firewood.

The lawyer said the federal government had launched a scheme through the ministry of energy (petroleum division) for supply of LPG air-mix to Chitral valley through the installation of a plant.

He added that in pursuance of the directives of the federal government, the land acquisition collector had issued a notice under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act on Apr 17, 2018.

Mr Sher Haider said the land acquisition process had been completed and an award in that respect was announced on Feb 28, 2019.

He said landowners had received compensation to the tune of around Rs203 million.

The counsel said as per a report of the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited, an amount of Rs500 million had so far been invested in the process.

He, however, said the energy ministry suddenly issued the impugned notification of shelving the LPG project on Jan 12, 2021.

Mr Sher Haider pointed out that the SNGPL had sent a brief summary to the petroleum division on Feb 25, 2021, saying if the project was cancelled or shelved, there would be a huge loss to the government exchequer as the required machines or instruments for air-mix plant had already been purchased and imported from different countries by spending around Rs200 million.

He contended that the LPG air-mix plant project was launched to protect forests as well as wildlife and tourism in Chitral valley but its shelving by the government would adversely affect natural environment of the area.

The lawyer said the people of Chitral hadn’t been treated in accordance with the law and instead, they had been discriminated against through denial of the gas supply, which was available to the residents of other areas.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2022

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