LAHORE: Chief Justice Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar has remarked that elements hell bent on creating hurdles in the way of building dams are traitors and enemies of the state.
The remarks came during the proceedings of a suo motu case at the Supreme Court’s Lahore Registry on Saturday against free extraction of ground water by bottled water companies.
Hinting at invoking Article 6 of the Constitution – applicable in high treason cases – against elements opposing building new dams, he said he was trying to determine if the scope of this article allowed it to be invoked against “opponents of this national cause”.
“I received a WhatsApp message, opposing the dam building effort. I will work relentlessly in this regard,” the CJP said. “Everyone opposing this effort is a traitor and an enemy of the state.”
The CJP said that he had no other objective but to serve the nation.
“Do not humiliate yourself by offering me any position after my retirement,” the chief justice said. “If Pakistan had not come into being, I would have been working as your Munshi (clerk),” the chief justice told Aitzaz Ahsan, who was representing Nestle in the case on water bottling companies.
Advocate Salman Akram Raja appeared on behalf of Pepsi Co.
The bench observed that its prime concern was determining whether these companies had been paying for the subterranean water they had been extracting for years and whether the water sold by these firms was ‘mineral water’ as claimed by them or simply tap water.
The CJP remarked that bottled water was being consumed in almost every household while the poor had no other option but to drink unhygienic water.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan, a member of the bench, observed that all over the world, companies paid a price for using groundwater.
Earlier, Additional Attorney General Nayyar Abbas Rizvi told the bench that there were 82 mineral water units in Karachi, 16 in Sukkur, 15 in Hyderabad, 12 in Islamabad and eight in Lahore.
He said these units extracted groundwater either by sinking boreholes or deep wells, adding that boreholes were generally at least 30 feet deep while the depths of deep wells ranged between 120 and 410 feet. He pointed out that Nestle had been extracting groundwater from a 403-foot-deep well.
Nestle’s counsel Barrister Ahsan said that the company had been paying charges levied by the government for using groundwater.
Managing Director of Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) Zahid Aziz said that the current tariff for using groundwater was 2 paisa per 100 liters. He said the agency had proposed to increase the tariff at 75 paisa per 100 liter.
The companies, the CJP said, had been using the natural resource for almost free and earning a huge profit by simply bottling this water.
Terming water more precious than gold, Justice Nisar observed, “We will not close down their businesses, but we cannot allow them to rob the nation of its water.”
During the proceedings, the CJP asked Barrister Ahsan to hold a dialogue, in his capacity as an elderly ‘baba’, with the water bottling companies on behalf of the court to rationalise the tariff for using groundwater.
Ahsan responded: “There is just one ‘baba’ and that is you.”
The bench summoned the CEOs of all water bottling companies today (Sunday) and directed them to bring along data for the past five years about prices they paid for the extracted water and how much they earned by selling it.
Not to give up on Kalabagh dam dream
The CJP also said the Supreme Court would not give up on the dream of building Kalabagh dam. Relentless efforts, he said, would be made to build this dam. “It is essential for Pakistan’s survival and security.”
He was addressing at a cheque distribution ceremony at the office of the Akhuwat Foundation here.
The CJP insisted that the SC would not allow moves of the enemies to succeed. “This nation will protect these dams by forging unity. This nation will keep an eye on dams and thwart every move against this initiative.”
Highlighting the issue of water scarcity, the CJP said that five months ago, he was in Quetta and had been informed that the people of that city might have to migrate elsewhere on account of depleting groundwater.
He said afterwards, he invited experts to apply their minds in this regard. He said that the experts had told him that the only way out was to build more dams “otherwise, the nation will have to fight for its existence”.
As an alternative, he said, the court had decided to build Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams. As soon as work on these two dams finished and the nation remained united, work would be initiated on Kalabagh dam.
The CJP said that the court was not expecting its initiative to go this far. “Amazingly, it yielded far better results,” he said. “Even children are donating money for dams.”
He pointed out that Chief of Army Staff Qamar Qamar Javed Bajwa had donated Rs1 billion for the dams’ construction.
Applauding eunuchs efforts in this regard, he said that they had handed him a cheque of Rs200,000.