LAHORE  -  Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif appeared before the Supreme Court on Sunday and answered questions on provision of clean drinking water, disposal of untreated waste water and sewage, and public health.

Hearing a suo motu, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had summoned the CM at apex court’s Lahore registry after a court-appointed commission told the bench on Saturday that huge quantities of untreated waste water was being discharged in River Ravi.

After welcoming the chief minister to court, Justice Nisar expressed his concern on the quality of drinking water and poor disposal of sewage, and said that the provincial government should do more in the sectors of health and education.

The chief minister told the court about the steps taken by his government and said he would make sure his office comes up with a comprehensive plan for water treatment and the provision of clean water to the residents of the province.

The bench, which included Justices Manzoor Ahmad Malik and Ijazul Ahsan, gave the provincial government three weeks to submit a comprehensive report on installation of waste water treatment plants, Punjab Saaf Pani project and management of clinical waste of hospitals.

There were some lighter moments during an otherwise serious dialogue between the chief justice and the Punjab chief executive, which helped ease the tense atmosphere both inside and outside the courtroom.

When the CJP asked about the steps taken so far to treat the sewage, the chief minister started by praising the apex court. He said it was a great honour for him to appear before the august court.

“We honour the courts. We [also] ran movement for independence of judiciary,” the chief minister said, referring to the movement launched after the removal of then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

“I appreciate the court orders and obey them. Independent judiciary is imperative for democracy and development of the country,” the CM said.

As his behaviour and tone was diametrically opposed to that of ex-PM Nawaz Sharif and some other PML-N leaders towards the judiciary, the CJP said in a lighter vein: “Tell this (how to respect the courts) also to the other party leaders.”

This turned the atmosphere in the courtroom pleasant for a while.

During the hearing, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar welcomed the chief minister in court and thanked him for his appearance, saying: “Mian Sahib I have a feeling you will be the next prime minister of Pakistan.”

“Whosoever holds the power in next general elections should seriously consider you as the prime minister,” the CJP told the CM on a lighter note.

On this, Shehbaz Sharif replied, “Why are you after my job?”

The chief justice responded, “Your own people are after you.” He added “I assure you there will be free and fair elections in the country from now on. I keep repeating this”.

Ministers and top bureaucrats – including Punjab Chief Secretary Capt (r) Zahid Saeed, Inspector General Police Arif Nawaz and Advocate General Punjab Shakilur Rehman – were also present in the court.

“I’m not sure about the budget [allocated] for waste water treatment. This has been happening for last ten years; untreated water and pollution is destroying our land and crops and damaging human health,” the CJP said.

He said that Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan had submitted a bottle filled with ‘contaminated water’, and told a court staffer to bring that bottle.

Upon seeing the bottle, the Punjab CM remarked that it was a political stunt of the Pakistan Peoples Party leader. The CJP then told the CM that the water being supplied at his own chamber at the SC registry too was found contaminated.

The chief minister said he was a human being and may commit mistakes like others but he was trying his best to serve the public. “During the last three years, we installed modern systems at various hospitals and established liver and kidney centres,” he said.

At this, the CJP remarked, “Find out the private persons who have been involved in managing the clinical waste”. The bench asked the CM about outsourcing of the clinical waste. “Everything should be transparent,” the CJP remarked, adding that “we are not satisfied as we have come across many inadequacies”.

The CM replied, “Transparency is dear to my heart. We all make mistakes but I say it that billions of rupees of the public money have been saved through [competitive tendering and] procurement”. He explained, “I’m talking about the projects directly connected to the people.”

Shehbaz said five mega projects had been installed in Punjab and if their cost was compared to other such projects it would transpire that huge amount of public money had been saved through prudent tendering. He mentioned Guddu, Balloki, Dhikki and Havaili Bahadur Shah power projects in this regard.

The CJP remarked that he was asking him to tell what Punjab government had done to treat the waste. He also directed the chief minister to take immediate steps to curtail water pollution.

On it, the CM requested the bench for three-week time, saying that “I’ll prepare a comprehensive report on it and the court orders will be complied with”.

The CJP Nisar remarked, “There are many problems in health and environment [too] and we are not satisfied [at the state of affairs in these sectors]”.

He addressed the CM saying that if he was ready then why they should not go together to visit the public hospitals to examine health facilities being provided to the citizens.

The chief minister pleaded the court for giving them some time.

The CM said that a total Rs170 billion were allocated to the health sector. Liver and kidney treatment and transplant centres have been established in the province, he added.

At this, the chief justice praised the chief minister but observed that there were still many things that need to be done. “This is our payback time. We can provide ‘gifts’ [to the public] and the best will come out.”

The bench also directed the chief minister to give briefing on Saaf Pani [clean water] project and satisfy the court on this count.

 

 

Commission report

Earlier, a court-appointed commission comprising Ayesha Hamid advocate told the bench that the government had planned to set up three waste water treatment plants in Mehmood Booti, Shadbagh and Shahdara areas. She said that Asian Development Bank provided funds for the projects, but land acquisition was to be done by the Punjab government itself.

Ayesha also submitted a report on incinerators installed at public and private hospitals in the province.

This commission on Saturday also assisted the court on sewerage and untreated waste water being drained out from Lahore and cities of Punjab. Ayesha revealed that 96 million gallons of sewerage water was being drained out from Lahore. Out of it, 540 million gallons of untreated waste water or sewage were being discharged in River Ravi.

 

 

 

Mashhood snubbed

The Chief Justice of Pakistan snubbed Minister for Education Rana Mashhood Ahmad when he got up to say something to Advocate General Punjab during the court proceeding.

“Don’t you know the decorum of the court?” the CJP admonished him. He also directed all the other ministers present there to maintain the court decorum.

 

 

Sana’s statement rebutted

A Supreme Court spokesperson rejected the statement of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah wherein he said the CJP desired that next government too should be of PML-N. He said the statement was totally false and concocted.

Speaking outside the court, the law minister also took a dig at the judiciary by saying, “The provision of clean drinking water to the people is important, but the provision of justice is more important.”

 

 

Shehbaz to present clean water plan in three weeks

 

FIDA HUSSNAIN