KARACHI: The Supreme Court (SC) directed on Wednesday the Sindh government to constitute a committee comprising experts to resolve issues relating to scarcity of clean drinking water and deteriorating sanitation conditions in the province.
A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Amir Hani Muslim, passed this order while hearing a case relating to non-provision of potable water, terrible sanitation conditions and its impact on the environment in the province. Also comprising justices Qazi Faiz Isa and Faisal Arab, the bench was hearing the matter at the SC's Karachi registry. The chief secretary has been directed to propose names of the officers and experts to be included in the committee by Monday.
At the outset, the Karachi Water and Sanitation Board's (KWSB) deputy managing-director (MD) presented a report regarding the current status of water filtration and sewerage treatment plants in Karachi.
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From the report, the judges pointed out that two out of three sewerage treatment plants in Karachi had been lying dysfunctional for a long time but no steps were taken for their repair.
The head of the bench, Justice Hani, observed that the act of not making those plants functional was criminal negligence on part of the KWSB officials and others concerned.
With utmost shock, he noted from the report that the KWSB top management had not met even once in the past seven years. He asked the officials what else could be more unfortunate than the failure of the top management to meet even once in seven years.
The KWSB official conceded that the staffers at the filtration plants were not performing their duties properly. He further admitted that some non-chemists were posted at the laboratories.
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Justice Isa told the officers that the report of the judicial commission had reflected a shocking state of affairs but the water and sewerage utility authorities were still sleeping.
The bench members came down hard on former KWSB MD Misbahuddin Farid for not performing his obligations and questioned what hindered him from taking action against officials who were not performing their jobs.
Justice Hani observed that no one can consume tap water because people lack faith that the water utility was supplying them clean water.
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He told the officers that since the issue of water supply was related to the lives of people, it cannot be compromised at all.
The provincial chief secretary, Rizwan Memon, assured the court that the provincial government was ready to provide funds, whatsoever, required for the provision of potable water to the people in the province.
The bench directed the chief secretary to propose names of the officers and experts to be included in the committee by Monday, March 12.
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During the proceedings, Memon produced notifications regarding removal of the two secretaries of the law and irrigation departments and the KWSB MD for being ineligible to hold the posts. He said the three officers were relieved in compliance of the court order.
The chief secretary said an officer, Iftikhar Shalwani, was posted as the secretary of the law department. He further said the secretary of education department (schools), Jamal Mustafa Syed, was given the additional charge of the irrigation secretary while the local government secretary, Ramzan Awan, had been given the additional charge of KWSB MD.
The bench told the chief secretary to ensure that permanent charge of these departments was given to competent and eligible officers. The chief secretary said there was a dearth of eligible officers at the moment and assured that qualified officers will be posted on these posts on permanent basis within a couple of days.
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Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar, who appeared in the court, said there was a lack of interest and will on part of the provincial government in addressing the civic problems of Karachi. The performance of the KWSB in the last eight years is equal to zero, he added.
The bench inquired from the mayor whether amenity plots could be leased out. Akhtar informed the judges that in the past, amenity plots had been leased out and said he had sought explanation from the officials concerned in this regard.
The petitioner, Shahab Osto, said that 50 acres of land belonging to the Mehmoodabad sewerage treatment plant had been illegally allotted, of which 40 acres had been encroached. He said the mafia was also eyeing the remaining 30 acres other than the 50 acres allotted illegally of the plant's land.
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The judges inquired whether or not citizens who had built houses over illegally leased amenity land of the treatment plant could be given alternative lands.
Akhtar replied that alternative land could be given but financial compensation could not be given. However, he said, removal of illegal occupants always becomes a serious issue.
Justice Hani observed that non-functioning of the treatment plant, too, was a serious human issue, adding that the whole department was responsible for illegal lease of the plant's land to the individuals.
The bench directed the KWSB authorities to make the Mehmoodabad sewerage treatment plant functional immediately and submit a report in the court.