Provinces asked to appoint focal persons within two days

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday said it did not want to see people losing jobs merely because of water conservation.

“We do not want to see unemployment because of water conservation but awareness to save precious water should be instilled into people,” observed Justice Umar Ata Bandial heading a three-judge bench.

The bench had taken up a case on a suo motu regarding selling of bottled water extracted from underground sources without any charge as well as the quality and fitness for human consumption.

The observation came when during the hearing a representative of the Metropolitan Corporation, Islam­abad, highlighted certain reservations and concern on the part of the industry about the decision of levying a cess of Re1 for every litre of water extracted from the underground sources.

SC wants recovery of charges from industries consuming surface or ground water

Justice Bandial highlighted the need of installing water treatment plants in the industry to save water from wastage.

Prof Dr Mohammad Ahsan Siddiqui, an environmental scientist who was appointed head of a special committee on water, told the court that the body had written letters to different provincial governments, informing them about the Jan 11 apex court order of imposing Re1 per litre for extracted surface water by mineral water and beverage companies.

Other members of the special committee include representatives of the chief secretaries of the provinces, directors general of the federal and provincial environmental protection agencies, among others. It was tasked with devising a mechanism for the calculation, collection and monitoring of the recovery of the water charges of ground and surface water for all major industries consuming surface or ground water. But only the chief secretary of Punjab had responded to the letter, Dr Siddiqui regretted.

At this, the court observed that the three provincial governments should appoint some focal persons within two days to implement the court order.

“We want that all the members of the committee should work together to implement the court directive because it involves public welfare,” Justice Bandial observed.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan recalled that the Sindh government had issued a notification of imposing Rs1 per litre on water extracted from the underground sources by the mineral water companies and wondered whether the amount was being recovered or not.

Dr Siddiqui told the court that a five-star hotel in Lahore was extracting 2.4 million litres of water per day, whereas the Lahore Development Authority was not cooperating with the committee in implementing the court order. He requested the bench to issue fresh orders for the chief secretaries to cooperate with the committee.

Justice Ahsan asked the Punjab government to furnish a report suggesting how many water meters and close circuit cameras had been installed to monitor the extraction of water activity by the industries.

Earlier in its order, the Supreme Court had directed the provincial governments as well as the Islamabad Capital Territory to set up separate and distinct accounts in which all the amounts recovered by way of water charges be deposited. Such amounts will then be deposited in the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams Fund created by the apex court.

The court had also cautioned that the funds so collected would not be diverted in any circumstances for other purpose than the construction of dams and water-related activities.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2019