THE water crisis in the country is undeniably alarming. Serious action is required and long-term solutions will almost certainly include a combination of increased storage capacity and better utilisation of water already available in the system. Given the urgency of the problem, it is perhaps welcome that all institutions of the state are beginning to emphasise the gravity of the water crisis and the need for innovative solutions. But for effective interventions the right institutions of the state must address specific problems. Water storage and management are clearly an area of expertise and constitutional responsibility of the executive. Other state institutions ought to aid and encourage the executive in finding timely and comprehensive solutions to the national water crisis. It is quite possible that is what Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar has in mind with his recent remarks about dams being a large part of the solution to the water crisis and funds for building two large dams being raised through loan recoveries that banks may have waived earlier. But great caution is needed at the intersection of the law, finance and water.
On the issue of loan recoveries from businesses and allegedly politically connected wealthy individuals over the decades, it is possible that undue favours by state regulators may be unearthed in an exhaustive financial analysis. Yet, it is perhaps relevant to keep in mind the origins of the matter that the Supreme Court has again taken up with urgency. According to media reports, the current probe by the court can be traced back to hearings initiated by former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in 2008 regarding loan write-offs during the regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf. The era of judicial interventions under Mr Chaudhry is almost universally regarded as highly controversial and, in the case of economic decision-making, is believed to have caused untold losses to the public exchequer. While fat cats and rogue businessmen should be pursued fearlessly, it is important that the foundations of the economy not be rocked in misguided pursuits. It is hoped that the superior judiciary will proceed with caution, keeping front and centre the constitutional separation of powers and the authority of the executive.
In the area of water policy, the enormous social, economic and political dimensions of policy interventions ought to make the judiciary even more cautious. Funding, building and maintaining dams and managing water flows are areas where the executive not only has constitutional authority but the greater expertise among the institutions of the state. Yet, the next federal and provincial governments ought to recognise the severity of the water crisis in the country and make it a priority to find national solutions to the water crisis. It has become apparent that inaction by the country’s political leadership can invite outside interference. Surely, then, the next elected governments ought to make water a national priority.
Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2018