By; D J Mathal
The Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan two weeks ago handed down its verdict in a suo motu case declaring that Gilgit-Baltistan had the foremost right on the royalty of the proposed Diamer-Basha Dam while the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could have a share of about 25 per cent only. However, the court conditioned that the 25 per cent share could be given to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa only if a boundary commission declares the four and a half kilometers strip of land to be used for the mega project as the territory of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Otherwise, the whole royalty would be the sole right of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The court came with the verdict after Bashir Ahmed Khan, the opposition leader in the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, moved an application pleading that the people of the region would be the most affected from the construction of the dam and giving royalty to the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would be a travesty of justice and a rampant violation of the rights of the locals. The project would displace thousands of people in the Diamer district who would be forced to migrate to other areas. Besides, there would be large-scale economic, environmental and psychological impacts on the affected people. And to rub salt into the injuries, the federal government was hell-bent on depriving the local people of the right to royalty.
With the construction of the mega dam, a total of 142 km area would come under water and the population inhabited on that piece of land would be for ever displaced. On the other hand, Pakistan would not only irrigate its agricultural land and provide its cities with electricity produced from the dam but would also take away billions of rupees in the forms of royalty per annum. Is this justice and a civilized way of dealing with the people of a region whose political status is yet to be determined under the United Nations?
The plea was taken up by a three-member bench headed by Justice Nawaz Abbasi and consisting of Justice Syed Jaffar Shah and Justice Mohammad Yaqub. After detailed deliberations, the court pronounced its verdict on October 15. In its short verdict, the court declared that Gilgit-Baltistan had the right to 75 per cent of the royalty while the KP province could be given the remaining 25 and that too if the small strip of land was declared as its territorial property by the boundary commission. The court maintained that the definition of hydroelectric power house was very clearly articulated in Article 161 of the constitution of Pakistan. Under this article, royalty is given to the province in whose jurisdiction the place of water storage, turbines and power houses are located.
In the case of the Diamer Dam, 142 km area of the dam was located in Gilgit-Baltistan and as such the region is entitled to 75 per cent of the royalty while the status of only four and half km area was still to be resolved. This matter is now under the consideration of the boundary commission and after its decision the case of the 25 per cent royalty would be decided. During the hearing, the counsel of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa presented their arguments while Pakistan was represented by deputy attorney general Mohammad Aleem Abbasi.The court verdict would definitely play a key role in determination of the status of the region because till today no such decision had been made by any state institution against deprivation, injustices and human rights violations in the region. This time the people of the region pay tributes to the apex court with the expectation that the higher judiciary would play its due role and also hand down similar decisions against other injustices including plundering of the region’s resources without check and ensure rights violations are checked and the locals are given their due status, identity and basic rights.
It is also for the first time that the separate identity and status of Gilgit-Baltistan has been recognized. It will surely put a far-reaching impact on the social, political, economic and cultural and geographical conditions of the people of the region. We consider this judgment as a big victory for those who are waging struggle for the separate identity of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and who have been instrumental in spreading the movement against injustices with the masses to each and every corner of the region and creating awareness among the masses of their rights.
We also humbly appeal to the apex court to also restore the status of the region which has been recognized by the international community through the UN resolutions and get the State Subject Rule implemented in the region. These are essential not only for the future generations of Gilgit-Baltistan but also vital for the very survival of Pakistan.At the same time we also appeal to the two million people of Gilgit-Baltistan to realize their responsibilities in order to ensure their basic rights; promote unity amongst their ranks and do not fall prey to conspiracies which are being hatched to divide them. They should also remember that without struggle and unity, they would remain in the same conditions and would be exploited by outsiders. The region is not devoid of some kind hearted and law abiding people. The example is in front of us. Though Justice Abbasi does not belong to Gilgit-Baltistan, he has decided the most important issue in favor of the masses keeping the law supreme. After this epoch-making verdict, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan expect that the court headed by Justice Abbasi would also give them justice in areas where they have been denied their due rights for the last over 63 years.
Originally published by www.bangesahar.com