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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court will announce short order on the Presidential Reference on Reko Diq reconstituted project next week; therefore, it asked the lawyers of all the parties to complete their arguments by Thursday.

Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, heading a five-judge, asked the additional attorney general, amicus curiae, and Barrick Gold’s counsels to conclude their submissions by Thursday as they also have to write the judgment, before the deadline, which is December 15, 2022.

“Our desire will be to finish the case well before the time.” “We don’t want to disturb the arrangement,” the CJP added. He inquired from Barrick Gold’s counsel can the deadline be delayed a little further. Makhdoom Ali Khan, who represented Barrick Gold, said that they have tried, but the Antofagasta, which will quit the project after receiving $900 million, wanted the settlement by December 15.

The bench also comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Muneeb Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi, and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel heard the presidential reference on the RekoDiq project.

Justice Bandial expressing concern about the safety and welfare of people, who will be employed for RekoDiq project, questioned what the workmen will get? He asked Barrick Gold’s counsel do you have in mind what will be the minimum wage of the workers for the gold mines project? The CJP further said that the salary structure of the workers in international organisations and petroleum companies is much better.

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Makhdoom said right now cannot tell about the minimum wage but it would be higher than what many companies are paying in Pakistan. He said that the working condition of the labourers will also be better than the people working on other projects. He said the United National Human Rights protocols will be fully observed and the ILO protections will be complied with as it is also a signatory of the ILO convention. It is a Canadian organisation and is providing these protections to its workers in Canada.

Justice Afridi asked the counsel to provide the comparative minimum wages that his client is providing to the worker in other projects.

Amanullah Kanrani, representative of the Balochistan Bar Council, through a video link, contended that people working in the coalmines in Balochistan are dying, as no safety measures and security systems are placed for them. Justice Ijaz said those companies are Pakistanis, adding it was the responsibility of the government to protect them. He said there are concerns all over the world about the exploitation of local labourers.

Makhdoom said there will be a local mechanism for the redressal of complaints. “We will not fall below the local standard.” The state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are required that no human rights violation is committed.

Barrick Gold’s counsel also said that all environmental concerns of the Court will be addressed and environmental high standards will be followed. He said that the underground water, which will be used for the project is not suitable for drinking purposes. It will be used after treatment, adding the treated water will also be supplied to the locals. A desalination plant will be installed for cleaning water. The water will be treated before putting in the sea as they do not want to disturb the ecological life.

Justice Ijaz asked Makhdoom why the company uses seawater for the project. He replied they have no plan to bring water from sea as 680 km pipeline is required to be laid for this purpose, adding the company, however, will lay a pipeline to transport slurry to the seaport.

The chief justice said that he read a study, according to that, the aquifer is tilting towards Afghanistan and Iran, adding that Iran has used this water after treatment for agriculture. He further said that Balochistan’s land is fertile, and Makhdoom, you (Barrick) should encourage to also use it for drip irrigation.

The case is adjourned until Tuesday (Nov 29).

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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