SHC reserves verdict on petition seeking inquiry into heatwave deaths

Published: May 30, 2017
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KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) reserved on Monday its verdict on a petition seeking a judicial inquiry into the deaths of nearly 1,000 residents during the heatwave coupled with severe load-shedding in the city in 2015.

A two-judge bench, headed by Justice Irfan Saadat Khan, reserved its order after hearing arguments from the lawyers representing the non-profit organisations, K-Electric (K-E), the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) and others.

The petitioners, including singer Shahzad Roy, had argued that over 1,000 persons died and 40,000 others suffered heatstroke during the heatwave because the federal and provincial governments did not aptly respond to the situation and delayed declaring emergency until June 23 – when 426 people had already died. The petitioners had also blamed the K-E for the deaths as it had failed to provide uninterrupted power supply that could have mitigated suffering of the citizens during the heatwave.

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The petitioner had pleaded to the court to constitute a judicial commission, headed by a retired judge of either the high court or Supreme Court, to establish reasons for the deaths and hold the government functionaries responsible for their failure to take preventive measures. The court was also requested to ascertain the K-E’s role during the heatwave.

While hearing the matter on May 24, the bench had come down hard on the power utility’s management, stating the court will not sit idle if unannounced load-shedding continues to cause distress to residents. The bench had directed K-E and the relevant authorities to appear on May 25 along with details of measures that they had taken to control the unannounced load-shedding.

On Monday, the petitioners’ lawyer, Faisal Siddiqui, argued that entire area should not be deprived of electricity if one person defaults on paying their bill. He added that even if it is a matter of theft of electricity, the person committing the crime should bear the brunt of the power cuts, not those in the adjoining houses.

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He added that the K-E should provide electricity to the citizens under the national power policy, but the management was resorting to power suspensions instead of taking action against those involved in power theft. This act of K-E is illegal, he contended.

Siddiqui recalled that the Supreme Court had in 2014 ordered the power utility not to cut-off power supply during the month of Ramazan. But in spite of such order, up to 80% of the areas in Karachi were in the dark during sehri on the first day of Ramazan this year, he stated.

The lawyer further alleged that the K-E management had constantly violated the apex court’s directives during the holy month of Ramazan in 2015 and 2016. He said when Nepra sends a show-cause notice to the power utility, its management obtains a stay order from the court. The lawyer charged K-E with exploiting the judicial system.

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Siddiqui argued that K-E should be given directives in the light of Nepra’s directions to take action only against those involved in power theft instead of suspending power supply to the entire locality.

A lawyer representing Nepra informed the court that action will be taken against the K-E management, if the power regulator receives any complaints in this regard. To this argument, the judges inquired whether Nepra could act on its own against unannounced load-shedding. The lawyer replied that the authority will take action only if any particular area, where unannounced load-shedding is being carried out, is identified.

Dissatisfied with the reply, the judges asked why the petitioners or anyone else should identify areas to Nepra and why the regulatory body was not monitoring the situation on its own. The bench observed that the petitioners would not have needed to come to the court had Nepra been fulfilling its obligations.

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After hearing arguments from both sides, the bench reserved its judgment to be announced at a later date.

 

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Meanwhile, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Karachi Amir Hafiz Naeemur Rehman approached the SHC to take action against K-E management for hours-long load-shedding in the city.

After filing the petition, the JI leader said he has requested the court to take the K-E management to task for continuing the illegal practice of suspending electricity supply to the parts of the city despite recovering electricity bills regularly from the consumers.

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In the petition, he maintained that under the Article 245 of the Constitution, the army may be requested to take over the power utility as it has failed to deliver to its consumers. He further requested for carrying out forensic audit of K-E.

Rehman alleged that the current management of the KE wanted to escape after plundering Rs200 billion of the public money and the federal government was supporting them in this.

In the petition, the K-E chief executive officer, Nepra and water and power ministry and others have been named as respondents. The matter is likely to be taken up for hearing in the court on May 30.

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