KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Tuesday deplored that apparently no meaningful progress was being made before the Council of Common Interest (CCI) to resolve the issue of gas distribution among the provinces.
The SHC also took exception to the shortage of natural gas in Sindh even during the month of Ramazan and advised the Sindh government to approach the Supreme Court again for implementation of Article 158 of the Constitution.
A two-judge bench headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha also directed a provincial law officer to inform it on the next hearing about the decision of the chief minister to move the apex court to get judicial interpretation of Article 158, which states the areas producing natural gas have the first right over it.
Earlier, the bench had appointed senior lawyer Makhdoom Ali Khan as amicus curie to assist it on some facts and particulars concerning Article 158 including authority of federal government taking gas from Sindh without permission of its government.
At the outset of the hearing, the bench was informed that the amicus curie was on general adjournment.
Bench regrets CCI made no meaningful progress to address gas distribution among provinces
The bench said that advocate general had filed some documents, including minutes of the CCI meetings, to show the measures taken by the provincial government during the last three years in the CCI to have Article 158 implemented.
“It seems that no resolution has been made to this clear constitutional command whatsoever during this three years period and even in one part of minutes, it is stated that Article 158 of the Constitution was added for province of Balochistan which does not appear to have been objected to the government of Sindh,” the bench in its order added.
It further noted that there appeared to be no meaningful progress being made before the CCI in terms of Article 158.
“It appears that the CCI prima facie does not seem to be able to effectively deal with a clear command of Constitution and thereby resolve the issue of primacy in gas distribution between the provinces,” it said.
An additional advocate general informed the bench that the apex court had referred the matter in question to the CCI to resolve it.
The bench in its order also said: “The government of Sindh under these circumstances might want to consider approaching the Supreme Court again for implementation of Article 158 of the Constitution as it is quite apparent that no resolution or implementation in respect of the same is likely to be made via the CCI which indicates that Article 158 of the Constitution is redundant which can never be the case in the Constitution as no Article can be held to be redundant.”
It further observed that the article in question was clear and unambiguous and did not need any interpretation. In any event, the bench said it was leaving the issue up to the Sindh government as it represented the people of province and accountable as well as responsible to provide them basic needs, including gas to cook for themselves.
The SHC said that it had discussed this issue in an earlier order passed in March last year which only illustrated that the court and the provincial government were only going around in circles without producing any worthwhile result.
The AAG submitted that the energy department had referred a note on March 14 for chief minister seeking specific directions about Article 158, including approaching the apex court for judicial interpretation.
In the light of last order about rehabilitation flood victims, the lawyer for Provincial Disaster Management Authority contended that 80 per cent of flood relief work had been completed and the remaining work of dewatering was under way.
However, the court was informed that Naushahro Feroze, Khairpur, Ghotki, Dadu, Sujawal, Qambar Shahdadkot, Sanghar and Mirpurkhas districts were still lying in floodwater.
The bench directed the deputy commissioners concerned to ensure that all water be drained out before the next hearing.
About gasification of villages, the Sui Southern Gas Company said that it had received Rs660 million from the federal government, but it was facing a shortfall of over Rs423m due to increase in cost and depreciation of rupee and the ministry of petroleum was requested in this regard, but did not receive any response.
The bench directed the secretary of ministry of petroleum to ensure provision of required funds to the SSGCL till next date of hearing.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2023