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Lahore High Court. — File photo

ISLAMABAD, Dec 2: The Lahore High Court’s directive to the federal government to implement decisions of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) and build the much-politicised Kalabagh dam has activated the institutional framework to take the issue to a logical conclusion.

“We have to ensure that if the construction of the controversial project is politically difficult then respective decisions of the CCI need to be neutralised through constitutional means to avoid further polarisation in the country,” a senior federal government official said, adding that the matter had to be settled one way or the other for all times to come. “This can’t be kept in limbo.”

To start with, the CCI secretariat has asked Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments through the Inter-Provincial Coordination Committee (IPCC) to submit their opinions on the LHC’s short order and express their position on the question of construction of the dam. In a letter to the two provinces, the secretariat has also asked chief ministers of the two provinces whether or not a meeting of the CCI should be convened to discuss the issue.

In reply to a question, the official said the federal government would like to go through the points of view of the two provinces and only then it would be decided if the CCI meeting should be convened or not.

Asked why the two other federating units – Punjab and Balochistan – had not been asked to give their opinions on the issue, he said the assemblies of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had in the past adopted resolutions against the building of the controversial dam and, therefore, they had been asked to submit their opinions on the matter.

“Punjab and Balochistan may be approached later,” he added.

The CCI secretariat believed that any issue relating to construction of dams and major water sector projects fell under the CCI jurisdiction and only it had the constitutional powers to take decisions on such matters. “Neither can any other institution or court infringe upon the CCI’s powers nor their decisions have any legal or constitutional standing,” said the official.

He said the CCI had to take decisions through consensus by all federating units. “If this fails, such disputed maters have to be decided by a joint session of the two houses of parliament.”

Referring to the two decisions taken by the CCI in 1991 and 1998 on the building of Kalabagh dam, the official said the first (1991) was vague and recommendatory in general tone while the second (1998) was much clearer, which called for steps to develop consensus and create an enabling environment, rather than being a binding order.

At a meeting on May 9, 1998, the CCI took note of briefings by the-then water and power minister and other top government officials on the Kalabagh dam (KBD) project and constituted a committee to oversee the implementation of six directives issued to Wapda.

The committee headed by the minister for petroleum and comprising the chief ministers and chairman of Wapda was also required to examine all issues relating to effective utilisation of water resources and to identify projects needed to be implemented on a priority basis.

The committee, however, could not work because of some major adverse developments in Sindh, including the assassination of Hakim Muhammad Said on Oct 17, 1998, and subsequent removal of the government of chief minister Liaquat Jatoi and imposition of the governor rule.

Wapda was directed by the CCI to “carry out updating of technical studies related to the project under the National Water Resources Development Programme”. It was also asked to “prepare a document on the issues involved in the construction of Kalabagh dam based on the studies carried out so far and explain to the target groups the issues within a maximum of eight weeks”.

The council had decided that Wapda should prepare supplementary projects in support of the KBD to mitigate its effect keeping in view that overall cost of the project remained viable. It was also decided that a strategy should be formulated to market the KBD project as a package, including addressing political and technical concerns that had been raised over time.

The Wapda was also directed by the CCI to “prepare a revised KBD project in the prescribed format (PC-1) for approval by the competent authority”, “prepare a booklet on environmental and resettlement issues arising from the KBD construction” and formulate a strategy to seek financing for the project from different sources --- private sector, international and bilateral donors.

The LHC said in its order that the CCI decision had obligatory effect unless modified by parliament.

“The federal government may act under Article 154 (7) of the Constitution to request a joint session of parliament to modify previous CCI decisions,” an official said.