RAWALPINDI: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has issued notices to the relevant authorities, including the attorney general for Pakistan, on a petition seeking the right of local populations to the mineral resources in their respective localities.
LHC Rawalpindi bench Justice Jawad Hassan took up the petition of former minister for environment Malik Amin Aslam and other residents of District Attock seeking a share in projects related to their district.
The petitioners have sought direction to the respondent authorities to release funds for the provision of gas to the areas falling within five-kilometre radius of the gas wells in Attock. They have also sought 25 per cent share of the net hydel profit from the Ghazi Barotha Hydroelectric Project or royalty for the people of Attock since the commencement of its operation.
When Justice Hassan confronted the maintainability of the petition, Advocate Syed Saim Hassan submitted that the petitioners were seeking writ of mandamus under Article 199(1)(a)(i) of the Constitution, which clearly states that any aggrieved person, by any order, can file writ petition to direct a person performing functions within the territorial jurisdiction of the court, in connection with the affairs of the federation, a province, or a local authority, to refrain from doing anything he is not permitted by law to do or to do anything he is required by law to do.
Saim Hassan added that Amin Aslam, former Member of the National Assembly and resident of village Shamsabad, tehsil Hazro, Attock, served as the minister of state for environment and adviser to the prime minister on climate change.
He stated that the case was related to the adherence of the policies/orders already issued by the concerned departments, including the ministry of energy (power division).
The counsel argued that the people of Attock had sacrificed their social and environmental welfare for the country’s prosperity, and Articles 158 and 161 of the Constitution protected their rights.
Additional Attorney General Malik Mohammad Siddique Awan and Assistant Advocate General Abid Aziz Rajori objected to the maintainability of the petition.
The petitioners’ counsel argued that in 2020, the Divisional Development Working Party (DDWP) and the secretary of the Petroleum Division had approved a gasification scheme, “Supply of gas to localities/villages falling within the radius of gas-producing fields,” and its expenditures were to be borne by distribution companies as per the decision dated Nov 24, 2017, of the Council of Common Interests, which had not been implemented to date.
He said the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had implemented a policy where it would utilise 5pc to 10pc of net profits from hydropower projects in the districts where the projects were located.
He submitted that the non-provision of gas and non-payment of net hydel profits to the residents of district Attock within a five-kilometre radius of fields/wells infringes on their fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
He stated that during the signing of agreements for exploration and mining, exploration and production companies agreed to clauses ensuring the development, capacity building, and environmental protection of local areas, but no such initiatives have been taken to date.
Justice Hassan cited the judgement of former chief justice Jawwad S. Khawaja in a similar matter, directing the ministry of petroleum to “ensure implementation of the prime minister’s directive of 15.09.2003 and provide gas to all the surrounding localities/villages falling within the radius a 5km of all gas fields, on a priority basis”. The court adjourned further hearing till Nov 30.
Meanwhile, Amin Aslam while talking to reporters in his native town said the district should be given its due share on account of royalty on gas production and power generation.
He said Ghazi Barotha hydropower project was established on the land of Attock, but its royalty was not given to the local people, adding Rs60 billion generated from the power project were deposited in the national exchequer during the fiscal year 2020-21.
“In June 2020, I wrote a letter to the then prime minister and raised the issue in parliament. The then PM had issued directives on my letter, but concerned quarters so far denied royalty to Attock where a number of different companies are also extracting oil and gas,” he added.
He said he had filed a writ petition under article 199 of the constitution in Lahore High Court Rawalpindi bench. The petition stated that the Ghazi Barotha was a run-of-river power plant on the River Indus in Attock with a total installed capacity of 1450 MW. It diverts water from a 2.5 kilometre-long barrage on the river, providing constant peak power at times when the Tarbela Dam is generating low amount of electricity.
On the other hand, Attock district also houses several gas fields, including Jhandial field, Dakhani field, TUT field, Mayal field and Dhol Sultan field. The Jhandial field alone is estimated to have reserves of 292 billion standard cubic feet of gas, making it one of the largest wells of gas discovered all over Pakistan.
He said the people of Attock were denied both the rights in violation of the constitution. He said as per rules gas exploration companies were bound to provide gas to the residents living in the 25km radius of the gas field but the same facility is also denied to the residents of Attock, especially Jand. He said if the people get their basic constitutional right of royalty, their fate would be changed and the issues of the district of Attock would be addressed.
— Amjad Iqbal in Taxila also contributed to this story
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2023