SC orders crackdown on tanker mafia, allows high-rise buildings in Karachi


KARACHI, Jan 14 (TNS): Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar on Sunday came down hard on Sindh officials, saying that if the water tankers in Karachi hold a strike, the apex court knows how to deal with them, and also allowed builders to construct six-storey buildings in the city.

The bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, was hearing the constitutional petition filed by Shahab Usto, a concerned citizen and lawyer, at the apex court’s Karachi registry. The case was filed against the provincial government’s failure to provide potable water, better sanitation, environment and associated issues.

As the bench began the proceedings, the chief justice remarked that this is a matter of public interest and everyone will have to work together for it.

In an unprecedented move, the chief justice had fixed the hearing of public welfare cases for Sunday at the Karachi Registry.

The CJP also thanked all government officials attending the hearing for coming in on a holiday.

Sindh Chief Secretary Rizwan Memon, Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) Managing Director Hashim Raza Zaidi, and Sindh Health Secretary Fazlullah Pechuho, among other officials, attended the hearing.

Hearing a case on deteriorating sanitation condition and its impact on environment and water shortage in the city, the chief justice remarked that without entangling the court, the officials concerned must apprise it on completion dates of all projects in this regard.

Why there is a shortage of water in Karachi… and how come water tankers are not affected by it? Why there is a water shortage in DHA… have some fear of the Almighty, how can poor purchase two tankers in a month?” he questioned.

Criticising the provincial administration, the CJP said the Sindh government had failed to supply water to its citizens, adding that tankers had become a mafia.

“Billions of rupees are being minted… this mafia has its own interests and these influential will never allow this illegal business to end,” he remarked. Justice Nisar said the water shortage was only affecting poor as wealthy people had no issues purchasing the water worth Rs14,000 per month.

“Give me a deadline for when the matter of dirty drinking water will be resolved,” the chief justice said, while addressing Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) Managing Director (MD) Hashim Raza Zaidi.

“When will the sewerage water be treated and made available?” CJ Nisar asked. “Water is available in Karachi but is sold to the people through tankers.”

Fahim Zaman, an activist and former administrator of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, told the bench that 250 hydrants are operating in Karachi.

“No matter how old the lines, they can be repaired using modern technology in a short amount of time,” he added.

“The solutions to these problems must be presented to us,” the chief justice said. “The sale of water through tankers needs to end.”

The court then heard the matter of the ban on high-rise buildings in Karachi.

In May 2017, the Supreme Court had stopped the Sindh Building Control Authority and cantonment boards from issuing building approval plans for high-rise and multi-storey residential and commercial structures without the availability of proper water supply and sewerage systems.

Following the order, the builders had filed review petitions in the court.

“When we send one builder to jail the rest will get the message,” remarked the chief justice.

The court then allowed builders to construct six-storey buildings but warned that the prescribed limit should not be breached.

The hearing was later adjourned for a date to be fixed later.

While hearing the matter of packaged milk, the chief justice directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and drug inspectors to conduct raids and seize vaccines used on Buffalos to unnaturally increase production.

The top court also ordered to seize the full stock of companies, producing harmful packaged milk.

The milk producing companies filed their reply in Sunday’s hearing, saying that some companies only produce milk and tea-whiteners, which were also produced through milk.

On that, Justice Nisar said that tea-whiteners were not a milk product, adding that even the well-reputed brands were producing low-quality milk. “Should we immediately summon owners of all these companies here?” he remarked.

Issuing a deadline of four weeks to print “This is not milk” warning on all packets, the court ordered to examine milk samples of all companies with Rs50,000 of their own expense.

The CJP said the open milk issues will be addressed on completion of packed milk hearing. He also directed the court aide to present a report on the quality of milk and tea-whiteners within the next two weeks.

Justice Nisar said investigation on poisonous chicken feed was also underway, adding that no one would eat it if see it in production. He advised the public to buy alive hens and use it after keeping it at home for at least a day.

“By the way, I don’t have any poultry farm,” he clarified.

Appointing Justice (retd) Amir Hani Muslim as the chief of Sindh Water Commission, the CJP ordered a report over the issue in the next 15 days. He will be given powers of a SC judge and the authority to take sou motu notices, he said, adding that the Sindh government will provide security and office to Justice (r) Hani.

Notices were issued to milk-producing companies, the Sindh advocate general and other provincial officials concerned during the hearing.

Appearing before the court during Sunday’s hearing, Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar said that there were a number of problems in the city of Karachi.

“The water board’s system is poor. Electricity is running on electric rings. The drains have been occupied,” he said.

The entire system of Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, the entity responsible for providing potable water to the people and draining out sewage, has rotted, he said, adding that all trash made its way into sewerage lines and stormwater drains have been encroached.

CJP Nisar told the mayor that he couldn’t absolve himself of the responsibilities to fix the ailing system, since he had remained at the helm of affairs for a significant time in the city.

“It is your responsibility too to resolve the issues facing the city,” he observed. “You are mayor of this city. You need to learn from the past.”

The chief justice asked him to come up with a solution to the problems on next hearing. The mayor had also been asked to give suggestions to the commission constituted to ensure implementation of the apex court’s orders with regard to the provision of potable water and clean environment in the city to fix civic issues.

He said these environmental and water-related issues would have to be resolved and expressed optimism that some progress would be visible within three months.

Speaking to the media after the hearing, Mayor Akhtar said that it appears the problem of drinking water in the city would be resolved now that the chief justice has taken notice.

“The government’s job is being done by the court,” he said. “The court has asked me for suggestions in solving the matter. I will start working on this from Monday.” The mayor added that in a week, he will file a report before the court regarding drinking water in the city.

The court ordered Sindh government to submit a comprehensive plan to the water board in 15 days.

“The plan should reflect clearly how the problem will be solved,” the chief justice said.

The chief justice then remarked that whenever the need arises, the bench will convene on Sundays.