CCI delay in resolving gas distribution primacy issue irks SHC

Jamal Khurshid
Wednesday, Mar 29, 2023

The Sindh High Court (SHC) has said that the Council of Common Interests (CCI) is apparently unable to effectively deal with the clear command of the constitution about the priority of natural gas requirements and resolve the primacy issue in gas distribution among the provinces.

The court issued an order on a petition regarding the lack of provision of welfare funds for the people of oil and gas exploration areas, and the non-implementation of the Supreme Court’s orders.

An SHC division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha said the CCI has made no resolution to resolve the gas distribution issue despite a lapse of three years. The court had directed the provincial government’s counsel to file a statement about what steps it intends to take to resolve the gas crisis in the light of Article 158 of the constitution.

The article makes it clear that the province in which a well head of natural gas is situated will be given preference over other parts of the country, subject to commitments and obligations. The provincial law officer filed a statement about the measures taken by the Sindh government at the CCI meeting for the enforcement of Article 158.

After perusing the CCI meeting’s minutes, the bench said that in one part of the minutes it was stated that Article 158 was added for Balochistan, which the Sindh government does not appear to have objected to.

The court said that no meaningful progress was seemingly being made before the CCI in terms of Article 158, and the council is apparently unable to effectively deal with the clear command of the constitution and resolve the primacy issue in gas distribution among the provinces.

The law officer said the Sindh government will continue its best efforts for the enforcement of Article 158 for the benefit of the people, who even during Ramzan are unable to cook a meal at Sehri or prepare a cup of tea at Iftar due to gas shortage.

He said the SC had referred the matter to the CCI to resolve the issue, but despite a lapse of five years, nothing had been achieved, while it seemed that nothing was likely to be achieved in the near future.

He added that the Sindh government might approach the SC again for Article 158’s implementation through the CCI. He also referred to the energy department’s letter to the chief minister asking for specific directions, including approaching the SC for getting the article’s judicial interpretation.

The SHC said that such a matter is left to the Sindh government as it represents the people of the province, to whom it is accountable and for whom it is responsible for providing basic necessities so that they can at least cook for themselves.

The bench said that much has already been discussed in the previous orders, which only illustrates that the court and the government have been going around in circles without producing any worthwhile results. The court directed the law officer to place on record a copy of the summary and the government’s decision.

Regarding flood relief, the Pakistan Disaster Management Authority’s counsel told the court that 80 per cent of the work has been completed, and the remaining work of dewatering is under way, after which rehabilitation will be completed for those who have been affected most seriously.

He said floodwater is yet to be cleared in nine districts of the province: Naushehroferoze, Khairpur, Ghotki, Dadu, Sujawal, Badin, Qambar Shahdadkot, Sanghar and Mirpurkhas.

The court directed the deputy commissioners concerned to file their progress reports on the relief work carried out from the exploration and petroleum funds, and directed the DCs to submit reports ensuring that all the water has been removed from the districts before the next hearing.

Regarding gasification of the villages near the gas fields in Sindh, the court was told that the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) has received Rs660.215 million from the federal government for the purpose as per the agreed schedule by the SSGC.

The SSGC’s counsel said the company is also facing a shortfall of Rs423.726 million, which was the share of the Centre on account of the increase of cost and the depreciation of rupee. The court directed the petroleum ministry to ensure that the amount is paid to the SSGC so that it can continue and complete the work as per the agreed schedule.