ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court has constituted a nine-member larger bench to revisit its own judgment regarding privatisation of the Pakistan Steel Mills.

The bench headed by Justice Mian Saqib Nisar comprises Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Maqbool Baqar, Justice Faisal Arab, Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah will start hearing from March 6.

Former prime minister Shaukat Aziz had made an attempt to sell the PSM to a Saudi-led consortium at Rs21.6 billion ($362 million) but it was struck down by a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June 2006, which practically led to a halt of the privatisation programme for almost eight years.

The PSM’s losses and liabilities, which stood at Rs26bn by the end of 2008, have increased to around Rs415bn, including Rs166bn payable liabilities. The government has injected over Rs85bn out of the federal budget for various bailout packages since then. One review petition was filed against the judgment but it was dismissed.

Last month, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi gave the formal go-ahead for the privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills and Pakistan International Airlines apparently on the pretext of ‘restructuring’. He granted the related approval while presiding over a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation at the Prime Minister’s Office.

In 2010, the Privatisation Commission has had to temporarily shelve the plan for the privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills after it failed to circumvent the Supreme Court’s judgment and was found to be intruding in the mandate of other ministries.

However, Pakistan People’s Party is opposing privatisation of the PSM and the PIA as the Sindh Assembly on February 22 had passed a resolution denouncing the privatisation of both national entities.

The PPP urged the PML-N government to refrain from selling out national assets, saying it would not leave labourers at the mercy of government and the plan to sell out the only steel-making company is aimed at benefiting certain families.

The Pakistan Steel Mills Corporation is a private limited company and its 100 per cent equity is owned by Government of Const Petition No. 9 of 2006 etc 4 Pakistan. It was incorporated in 1968 at a total cost of Rs24.7 billion. It commenced production in 1981 to 1984. The Mills is the biggest producer of steel in Pakistan and the only major manufacturer of flat and long bars and billet.

The plant was installed in collaboration with the Russian government by the Ministry of Industries, Production and Special Initiatives. Mills net assets include land measuring about 19,000 acres out of which the plant and the machinery is located on the 4,457 acres of land (core land) besides the land of downstream industrial estates.