The tenure of Chief Justice Saqib Nisar saw the judiciary’s fervent attempt to tackle social issues. From taking an increasing number of suo motu notices to conferences to address Pakistan's burgeoning population – the top judge remained ever so active in his pursuits.
His legacy, however, revolves around the mission to address the country's water scarcity, which some experts say can be resolved with better conservation techniques.
It started during the hearing of a case pertaining to the Kalabagh Dam in July 2018. The dam's construction has been surrounded by controversies with Sindh vehemently opposing its construction.
Appalled by the water situation in the country, the Supreme Court ordered immediate work on the construction of Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams and appealed to the general public to donate for the cause.
A committee was formed under the chairmanship of Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) chief to monitor the progress of construction. An account was opened with the apex court’s registrar to collect donations – instructions were given that the donors will not be asked for the source of income.
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Justice Nisar initiated the donation process by announcing to donate Rs1 million for the cause. Soon enough, state institutions including the military and the State Bank of Pakistan donated a days-worth salary.
In September 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan joined the campaign and the fund was renamed as 'The Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of Pakistan Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dam Fund'.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) spokesperson Abid Rana stressed on the financial plans for the construction of the dams that detailed funds requirement at every stage and their arrangement by the authorities. "According to the plan, the Mohmand dam will be completed in five years and eight months while Diamer-Bhasha will take nine years," he added.
The total cost for the dam is estimated at Rs1,450 billion. As of January 17, 2019, the total amount collected is Rs 9.1 billion. Which is an approximate 0.6 per cent of the total cost. At the current rate of donations, it would take more than 100 years to raise the amount needed to finance the mega-infrastructure project.
The project has led to multiple calls for donations, with overseas Pakistanis being asked to donate at least $1,000, Pakistan Railways increased ticket prices to raise funds, children in tribal areas were asked to donate lunch money and employees in government and [some] private institutions had to part with a days worth of pay.
In some cases, the fines imposed by the apex court were redirected to the fund. The chief justice also warned critics of a treason trial.
The thought behind crowd-funding an infrastructure project has many critics. Justice Nisar’s donation drive may have raised funds but it has raised more doubts.
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I do not see how the amount of funds required for the construction of the dams in Pakistan can be collected through donations, Raheel Kamran Sheikh told The Express Tribune.
He doubted the apex court would embrace "this failure and rigorously pursue the fundraising campaign" after Justice Nisar's retirement. "Judiciary world over likes to be perceived as a strong institution and does not operate in uncertainties and failures," he added.
Additional Attorney General Pakistan Syed Nayyar Abbas Rizvi, however, differed. "I think the SC will have to pursue it as the drive has been taken over by the masses including overseas Pakistanis."
He revealed that Justice Nisar will continue promoting the campaign through fund-raising drives in Pakistan and across the globe. Rizvi believes Nisar's trips to the United States and Canada will ensure the work on the dams begin immediately.
The additional attorney general dismissed controversies surrounding land acquisition and concerns raised over handling of the Rs300 billion construction contract to Advisor to the PM for Commerce, Textile, Industry and Production, and Investment of Pakistan Abdul Razzak Dawood's company Descon, for the Mohmand Dam. "As per my knowledge, the controversies regarding allocation have been resolved."
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It is pertinent to note the tribesmen have put forth demands of free electricity, setting up an industrial estate, drinking water scheme and jobs for locals. "There are no problems. The government has inked an agreement with the tribesmen for the land," Rana told The Express Tribune.
The agreement pertaining to the rates for acquiring the land was endorsed by the Sub Committee on Land Acquisition and Resettlement of Mohmand Dam Project formed under the Implementation Committee on Dams.
SC Advocate Syed Asad Ali Bukhari echoed Sheikh's views as he too doubted the apex court would continue the campaign with the same religiosity. "Justice Nisar took a personal interest in the matter. I am unsure how Justice Asif Saeed Khosa views it. Although the water issue is important and needs attention, the dam fund will lose the intensity as Justice Nisar vacates office."
“The dam fund may not remain a priority for the top court but it will be of central interest,” said senior advocate Faisal Siddiqui. "What people don't know is that Justice Nisar and Justice Khosa have similar judicial philosophies. Khosa will not disturb Nisar's legacy."
Sheikh emphasised that the dam fund has highlighted water conservation well. He said the judiciary "is likely to remain conscious of failures of the executive to handle water mismanagement and will keep intervening from time to time."
In 1990, Pakistan touched the “water-stress line” – an index depicting the total ratio of water use and its availability. In simple words, the country’s demand for water exceeded the available supply.
It was perhaps the first threat of an impending water crisis.
About 15 years later, Pakistan crossed the baseline for “water scarcity” in 2005. The country officially lacked sufficient available water resources to meet water needs.
The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if no immediate action was taken. It predicted acute water shortage in the near future.
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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) placed Pakistan as the third most water-stressed country in the world. A report by the World Resources Institute said Pakistan was on track to become the most water-stressed country in the region, and 23rd in the world, by the year 2040. United Nations Programme Development (UNDP) and World Economic Forum both pegged water scarcity to be the greatest threat looming Pakistan – the intensity was placed above terrorism.
As real as the threat was, the governments failed to take relevant measures to combat the looming crisis. The governments also lacked funds to address the threat. The construction of dams was marred by provincial politics – for decades.
Until Justice Nisar prompted the nation to take governance into their own hands and crowd-fund construction of the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams.
While only time can reveal the fate of the dam fund, the frenzy behind it has successfully awaken the country to a major crisis.