ISLAMABAD  - The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Thursday annulled the decision of government to suspend gas supply to the CNG stations of Potohar region.
Accepting the petitions of owners of 77 gas stations, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui declared gas load management plan of federal government and its sectoral priority policies that places domestic consumers at number one, fertilizer sector at number two and CNG sector as last priority as unlawful.
The single bench of IHC also directed the government to take up the issue of gas load management in the Council of Common Interests (CCI) afresh within 90 days time as CCI is the appropriate forum to decide the matter.
Earlier, the court had issued an interim order that was issued on December 20, 2013 when the same court had temporarily restored the gas supply to the CNG sector for three days a week.
In its 52 pages detailed judgement issued by the single bench, the court has announced to accept the petitions of 77 compressed natural gas (CNG) station and directed the government to provide gas to the CNG stations of twin cities and Pothohar region three days a week.
The judge remarked in the judgement, “In view of the aforesaid, it is hereby held that this load management plan dated January 29, 2013 and other subsequent two natural gas load management revised sectoral priority policies issued dated February 06, 2013 and March 01, 2013 placed on record are ultra vires to the procedure laid down in the constitution of Pakistan and are hereby declared void ab initio”.
Justice Siddiqui further observed that the Council of Common Interests (CCI) is the relevant forum to decide about the closure or supply of CNG unlike the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC). He remarked, “The government cannot be allowed to substitute or let ECC assume the role of a constitutional body such as the CCI and blatantly surpass the same.”
The verdict noted that the federal government can devise any policy for gas load management but it should be in line with the legal framework. The court’s decision says, “For the sake of repetition, it is to be noted that respondent are free to make any policy on merits they deem fit provided that such policy is promulgated through due process of law by the competent authority.
The respondents are therefore directed to take the matter to the CCI within 90 days and devise a policy in accordance with the facts and circumstances of the matter which time the arrangement established prior to the impugned load management plan dated January 29, 2013 shall come to force accordingly.”
The court had reserved its judgement on February 03 after the lawyers from all parties concluded their arguments and that reserved decision was announced here on Thursday.
It was on December 20, 2013 when Justice Siddiqui had restored the CNG supply after 77 owners of CNG stations had challenged the government’s decision to suspend the gas supply for an indefinite time.
It is to mention here that the former Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh had approved the gas load management plan in which CNG sector was given the lowest priority. The government had stopped gas supply to the industrial sector and gas stations in Punjab including the twin cities for three months on December 02, to ensure uninterrupted supply to domestic consumers.
The CNG station owners had adopted before the court that the government suspended gas supply without any formal notification and they were also condemned unheard. They further adopted that the CNG station owners were already bearing financial hardships due to closure of gas supply for four days a week and it has just become impossible for them to keep up with their expenses and salaries of the staff. They added that closure of the CNG sector, for the whole three months, is tantamount to create unemployment in the country.
On the other hand, the federal government and the Sui Northern Gas Pipe Lines Ltd (SNGPL) had informed the court that under the Natural Gas Allocation and Management Policy 2005 the domestic consumers are on the top priority while the CNG sector is at its lowest.
The SNGPL produced before the court statistics of the natural gas supply and its distribution. They told the court the gas distribution company is getting 1.6 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) against total requirement of 2.8 bcfd for the entire region. The total consumption of domestic consumers of twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad is 100 million cubic feet per day (mcfd) in summer season.
They said that during winter season it increases to 280 mcfd. The statistics suggests that total requirement of domestic consumers along with CNG sector is 400 mcfd. During the current winter season SNGPL receives 220 mcfd for twin cities against total requirement of 400 mcfd.
Legal counsel for SNGPL had told the court that under clause 14 of the contract the SNGPL had signed with the CNG station owners, the company has the right to reduce, curtail or even suspend the supply of natural gas to the filling stations subject to the availability of the gas .
In response to this argument, the IHC judgement noted, “Moreover the respondents cannot rely on the argument that the instant matter concerns a ‘contract’ or contractual obligations which is out of the scope of judicial review as the impugned orders on the face of it is alien to, and against the mechanism provided by the constitution and the procedure laid therein.”