KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) ruled on Wednesday that the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) is not entitled to charge, claim or collect water tax from residents not supplied with the essential commodity through pipelines or bowsers.
The court has also ordered the CBC to file monthly compliance reports regarding supply of water to residents through the SHC's Member Inspection Team (MIT) for the next six months at least.
It is unclear if the order will apply to all the cantonment boards in Karachi or is specific to CBC alone. The order will provide relief to residents of Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and Clifton, who have to rely on water tankers.
The ruling came on a petition filed by Rukhsana Yahya, a resident of DHA, who took the cantonment authorities to court over non-supply of water.
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The two-judge bench observed that before granting permission in an unplanned and indiscriminate manner to owners of the properties to raise construction and occupy the same, the CBC ought to have considered the impact of population of residents on the limited supply of water by keeping in mind the elementary and universal principle of 'demand and supply'.
"Indeed the Constitution of our country guarantees fundamental rights to every citizen and also equal treatment vis-à-vis such rights," the judgment stated. "However, this does not mean that on the pretext granting such rights to new applicants/consumers, the citizens who are already enjoying such guaranteed fundamental rights should be deprived or their rights should be curtailed or restricted."
"It is well-settled that justice should not be done, but it should be seen to have been done," the judges wrote. "We are of the view, similarly, [that] duties should not only be discharged, but they should be seen to have been discharged."
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Therefore, it ordered CBC to file a monthly compliance report with the MIT of the court for the next six months at least. CBC shall not be entitled to charge, claim or collect water tax from residents to whom water is not supplied through the line or bowsers, it further ordered. The CBC was also ordered to display the above-quoted statement and these directions on its website and all notice boards immediately, which shall not be removed without the court's permission.
During the proceedings, the court was informed that due to the frequent shortage of water, the CBC has to arrange for water bowsers for DHA residents. As per present policy, residents have to apply online, after which coupons are issued for five water bowsers per month per property. The CBC and DHA authorities said they had no objection to continue the practice of supplying five water bowsers per month to the petitioner as well as other residents of DHA, subject to availability of water and regular payment of dues by the petitioner and other residents. The per-bowser water limit is 1,000 gallons.
The judges ordered the CBC to also post this information as a statement on its website.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2016.
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