KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC)ordered the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Wednesday to file a reference against Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Jam Khan Shoro and 13 others accused of illegal allotment of state land and accumulation of assets through illegal means within two weeks.
A two-member bench, comprising SHC Chief Justice Ahmed Ali Shaikh and Justice Omar Sial, issued the order, also directing the anti-graft watchdog to submit a report to the court after filing the reference.
The NAB prosecutor informed the court that reference against the accused has been prepared and sent to NAB headquarters in Islamabad for approval. He requested the court for a four-week extension to file the reference.
The court, however, granted an extension of two weeks, stating that the bails of the accused would be confirmed if the reference is not filed within the given time. Extending Shoro’s bail, as well as that of the other accused, it directed NAB to submit a report on February 26 after filing the reference.
According to NAB, Shoro and other accused are involved in the illegal allotment of state land for a CNG station in Hyderabad, causing a loss to the national exchequer. The accountability watchdog claims that it has acquired evidence of the accused’s involvement in offence.
Electricity price hike
Meanwhile, another bench, comprising Justice Hasan Azhar Rizvi and Justice Zulfiqar Ahmad Khan, issued a notice to the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), seeking reply on a plea challenging the hike in electricity rates by K-Electric (KE) and privatisation of the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC).
The plea, filed by Mehmood Akhtar Naqvi, maintains that the increase in the price of electricity and the privatisation of KESC is illegal.
Naqvi, informed the court at the hearing that KE has increased electricity prices by Rs4.9 per unit. The court, however, asked him to approach NEPRA on the issue. At this, Naqvi said that he has filed a plea in the court as it is a matter of public interest.
Responding to Naqvi’s argument, the court remarked that matters of public interest should be dealt with in accordance with the law and NEPRA was the authority holding hearings on matters pertaining to electricity that are of public interest. It further inquired whether NEPRA has been nominated as a party in the petition.
The government lawyer informed the court that not NEPRA, but Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has been nominated as a party in the plea.
At this, Naqvi clarified that the actual nominated party was NEPRA and PEMRA’s name appeared in the list nominated parties due to a typing error.
Issuing a notice to NEPRA, seeking its reply on the plea, the court adjourned the hearing till February 12.
Compensation, pensions overdue
Another bench, comprising Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Yousuf Ali Sayeed, sought a reply from the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution secretary on a plea seeking the payment of overdue monetary compensation to the affectees of the Baldia factory fire.
Petitioners’ counsel Usman Farooq informed the court that pension was no longer being paid to most affectees and those being paid received insufficient amounts. He further said that the monetary compensation promised to the affectees can be paid in lump sum, according to articles 15 and 16 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention, and informed the court that the Sindh government had only paid Rs300,000 to the affectees on account of monetary compensation, against the Rs560 million promised.
The plea states that Sindh Local Government Minister Nasir Hussain Shah had announced on May 1, 2008, the payment of Rs560 million to the affectees. A German company Textilene, which was a client of the ill-fated Baldia factory, had already paid an amount of more than Rs600 million to the Sindh Employees Social Security Institution (SESSI) in 2015 for disbursement among the affected families, the plea mentions. It moves the court to order the relevant authorities to pay the compensation amount in lump sum to the affected families.
The counsel for SESSI, however, contended that the organisation had been paying the compensation money to the affected families in accordance with the ILO Convention.
At this, Farooq argued that the high court had the authority to decide how the monetary compensation would be paid to the affectees.
Seeking a reply from the EOBI secretary over the non-payment of pensions to the affected families, the court adjourned the hearing till February 19.
At another hearing, a bench comprising Justice Iqbal Kalhoro and Justice Irshad Ali Shah directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to complete investigation pertaining to the acquiring of fake documents of two houses, owned by Benazir Bhutto’s cousin Tariq Islam.
The bench issued the directive while hearing a plea seeking the termination of investigation, filed by the estate agent, Aziz Qasim Ali, accused of acquiring the fake documents.
Qasim’s plea, however, was rejected by the court as it ordered the FIA to complete the investigation of the case and directed the investigation officer to submit a final challan.
The court adjourned the hearing till February 17.
According to FIA, Islam owns two houses in Clifton, of which Ali acquired fake documents after colluding with the union council secretary and two employees of NADRA. Of the two NADRA employees booked for the scam, one has fled to Canada and the other is out on bail.
Land grabbing case
The court also directed the provincial home secretary, East District DIG, Malir District SSP, Sachal DSP and SHO, East District assistant commissioner and mukhtiarkar and others to conduct themselves in accordance with the law, while hearing a plea pertaining to the facilitation of land grabbers. It also issued notices to the parties, seeking their replies on the plea.
Petitioner Iqbal Ahmed had approached the court against police and revenue officials allegedly facilitating a land grabber to encroach upon his 17.8 acre land in Gulzar-e-Hijri’s Scheme-33.
The petitioner’s counsel, Chaudhry Ishtiaq Azam Chohan, appealed to the court to restrain the police and revenue officials, as well as their agents, servants, employees, attorneys and other representatives from harassing, blackmailing and threatening his client and the client’s watchman.
Ordering the parties to abide by the law in their conduct, the court adjourned the hearing till February 13.
Meanwhile, the bench headed by Justice Shaikh transferred the bail pleas of persons against whom NAB has opened investigations on charges of stealing wheat in different districts of Sindh to Sukkur bench.
The accused include Aneesur Rehman, Mohan Lal, Haresh Mal, Ibrahim Them and others.
Hearing their pleas, Justice Shaikh remarked that the province was in the grip of a wheat crisis because of people involved in “looting and plundering” the yield.
Rebuking Mal, the court commented, “Are you still not full up?” The court stated, “It is such people who take advantage of crises after colluding with influential persons.”
The NAB prosecutor informed the court that a reference against the accused was filed and informed the court the accused sold the stolen wheat in the markets.
Drawing the hearing to a close, the court transferred the pleas to Sukkur bench.
Illegal constructions case
The bench also heard bails pleas of persons accused of establishing Karimabad Housing Society and illegal constructions on an amenity plot.
During the hearing, the counsel for one of the accused, Advocate Munsif Jan, argued before the court that two of the accused were granted bail even when they “were accused of committing corruption on a larger scale” than his client, Barkat. He moved the court to approve Barkat’s bail.
The court directed the counsels for the other accused to continue arguments at the next hearing on January 29.
Meanwhile, a plea seeking the formation of a joint investigation team to probe PPP leaders’ alleged support to criminal elements was filed in SHC.
The petitioner, Iqbal Kazmi, referred to a report by Shikarpur SSP Rizwan Ahmed Khan. Citing the report, he stated that Sindh Energy Minister Imtiaz Ahmed Shaikh uses his criminal wing against his opponents and “provides shelter to criminals at his guest houses, farms, fuel stations and shops.”
The plea further mentions that as per the report, call records of Shaikh’s son and brother have revealed of their connections with criminal elements, adding that Shaikh exercised his influence to push Khan into transferring police officials at his whim.
Kazmi also mentioned another report, revealing that Sindh Information and Labour Minister Saeed Ghani’s brother, Farhan Ghani, had connections with a network of murderers and drug peddlers in Chanesar Goth.
The plea moved the court to order the formation of a JIT to probe Shaikh and Ghani’s patronage of criminal elements and direct the Election Commission of Pakistan to declare the PPP leaders ineligible to hold seats in the assembly.