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LHC verdict on Kalabagh Dam stirs up hornet’s nest

November 29, 2012

Lahore High Court (LHC). - File Photo

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court’s verdict ordering the federal government to build the Kalabagh Dam in accordance with the decisions of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) has stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest.

While Punjab which has been vociferously demanding KBD’s construction over the past decades is reacting cautiously and mostly keeping quiet, but politicians of all shades in Sindh and the outspoken opponents of the project in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa openly criticised the court and vowed to oppose the project by all means.

In Punjab, even the parties known to be ‘pro-judiciary’ are not prepared to come up in defence of the LHC verdict.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who is also provincial chief of the PML-N, reacted calmly and said that while construction of dams was essential for strengthening economy the Kalabagh Dam should be built only with the consent of the four provinces.

“The stance of the PML-N is very clear that the consensus among the four provinces with regard to construction of Kalabagh Dam is vital,” he said.

Talking to newsmen at a ceremony here on Thursday, the chief minister promised to develop consensus among the provinces on the project if the people gave the PML-N an opportunity (voted it to power).

He said the PML-N had always abided by decisions of the courts and urged the PPP-led federal government to follow suit and start work on the project.

After nuclear tests in May 1998, the PML-N had announced to build the dam, but retracted following a sharp reaction particularly in Sindh.

The PTI says it has the highest respect for the honourable court and also believes that new reservoirs are necessary and urgently needed to conserve water but it also believes that the construction of KBD should only be undertaken after a broad national consensus.

According to the party, “if the people of all provinces are not taken on board and their consent not obtained for new water reservoirs, particularly Kalabagh, it would lead to unhappiness and unrest. The nation at this juncture cannot afford that.”

It says it is incumbent upon the political parties which are in power either at the centre or in the provinces to evolve a national consensus on the need for new reservoirs, particularly the KBD.

But the leaderships of PPP, PML-N and other parties working together in government have failed to do so, the PTI regrets.

It promised that if voted to power, the party would accord highest priority to evolving consensus on the issue.

The PML-Q, a partner in the federal coalition government and which has been taunting the PML-N for not raising a voice for building the controversial dam, has also reacted cautiously to the verdict.

“It’s a welcome decision which can be made the basis for resolving the issue,” the party’s central information secretary Kamil Ali Agha said, but then immediately backtracked – “the dam has become a political issue that needs a political solution.”

Referring to CCI’s decisions that apparently became the basis of the court verdict, he said had the Council of Common Interests been the right platform the issue would have been resolved back in 1991.

He also called for allaying reservations of nationalists in smaller provinces before taking up the project because the country could ill-afford a controversy on the issue.

Ehsan Wyne, secretary-general of the Awami National Party which heads the Khyber Pakhtunkhawa government, regretted the verdict and feared it might hurt national stability, solidarity and cohesion recently seen among the provinces on the issue of war on terror.

He said it was regrettable that the verdict had come at a time when political parties were engaged in preparing their manifestos and pro- and anti-Kalabagh slogans might now become part of these documents.

A lawyer by profession, he asserted that the high court had no jurisdiction to adjudicate the issue and should have avoided hearing the case keeping in view that assemblies of three provinces had passed unanimous resolutions against the dam.