Lahore: Saaf Pani (clean potable water) is still a dream for the people of Punjab, already consuming contaminated water, despite the government spent four billion rupees on Saaf Pani Company and National Accountability Bureau is investigating the matter, spending further millions of rupees from the national exchequer.

The Punjab Saaf Pani Company (PSPC) was setup in March, 2014 under Section 42 of the Companies Ordinance 1984 with a mandate to develop, design, plan and execute projects for providing safe drinking water solutions, prioritizing underserved areas, especially in rural and peri-urban areas of Punjab. The PSPC is currently being investigated by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after the Supreme Court observed that the company could not provide a single drop of clean water.

This company is accused of certain irregularities like dubious recruitment, violation of procurement rules and merit, nepotism, and non-completion of various projects in time. In May 2018, NAB interrogated Hamza Shahbaz, questioning his alleged role in awarding certain contracts and making appointments despite not being a member of the board of directors. His father Shahbaz Sharif had also admitted that criminal carelessness has been shown by the officers of the company.

Punjab Chief Secretary was summoned by the court for explanations about the costs and expenditures. He submitted to the court that Rs.4 billion have been spent on the venture so far which includes consultancy charges of outsourced specialists and pays of the company’s officials.

Usman, who used to draw a salary of Rs.1465000 as the PSPC CEO, has twice appeared before the NAB. He is being probed by the corruption watchdog as part of an inquiry into the assets of heads of public companies in Punjab. He last appeared before the Supreme Court on July 24 when he was asked by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar whether he had returned the salary he had drawn as the PSPC head. In Usman’s defense, his counsel said that his client had an unblemished record of service and there was no allegation of corruption against him.

NAB arrested over two dozen of the officials and contractors including Nasir Qadir, Dr. Zaheerul Din, Muhammad Saleem and Muhammad Masood Akhtar. Nasir Qadir served as a main purchase officer in PSPC. Dr. Zaheerul Din was designated as a specialized officer of the venture while Saleem Akhtar worked with the organization as a contract professional.

The NAB says that the accused in connivance with each other caused a huge loss to the national exchequer. Allegedly, they introduced 116 water filtration plants schemes on the highest rates in Bahawalpur and forged appraisals of the plants in records. NAB said the accused were given a reasonable timeframe to clear their position and respond to the allegations which they could not.

NAB has a long list of the accused with various charges against them and summaries of interrogation in which most of the accused could not justify procurements and recruitments and even costs of the scheme they initiated.

People of Punjab don’t care about what NAB does against the accused and the company under the Supreme Court’s supervision. What concerns them is provision of drinkable water which is their basic constitutional and human right and duty of the state. First, PSPC raised their hopes and did nothing in three years. Now Supreme Court and NAB are again giving them a hope.

A four-year report by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources states that 86 per cent of the 28 samples tested in the report in Karachi were contaminated. While the sample size can be questioned, any source of water being polluted can be fatal. Samples collected from Islamabad were 68 per cent adulterated and Lahore had 25 per cent of the tested samples polluted by bacterial contaminants. Overall, 25 cities were tested with around 2,500 samples tested altogether, showing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s water quality to be relatively better than other provinces, with 47 per cent samples marked unsafe compared to 81 per cent in Balochistan and Sindh, and 65 per cent in Punjab.

The nature of the detected contaminants in the report ranged from bacterial to arsenic components. In 2015, 81 percent of the samples were deemed contaminated due to bacterial presence. The main reason for microbial contamination is intermixing of sewer lines with drinking water supply lines resulted by pit latrines in many intercity villages. In most rural areas of Pakistan, ground surface water and tube wells are used for drinking without slow sand filtration and chlorination at filtration stations. No pre-treatment facilities are available for filtration of water. Hand pumps and wells are not protected from surface run-off, making the water from such sources not potable.

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