The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday refused to stay governmental action against an oil marketing company (OMC) accused of hoarding and black marketing fuel as it asked the federal government and other respondents to submit replies to the OMC’s petition by June 25.
The IHC single bench headed by Chief Justice Athar Minallah issued this order while hearing plea of the OMC that challenged composition of a newly formed fuel crisis committee – which probed into a recent fuel crisis – as well as the crackdown initiated on recommendation of the panel.
According to the OMC, the committee on June 12 summoned the chief executive officer (CEO) of the company and leveled against the company the “baseless” allegation of hoarding and black marketing.
The petitioner also claimed that the government did not constitute the fuel crisis committee under the Inquiry Act and therefore it was illegal.
It had requested the court to set aside the Ministry of Petroleum’s June 8 and 9 notifications as well as to stop the government from taking any actions against the company till the court decides the petition.
The OMC had nominated the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra), the Pakistan State Oil (PSO), the Ministry of Petroleum, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the committee as respondents.
Taking up the petition on Tuesday, Justice Minallah remarked that the government is answerable to the public and is authorized to conduct an inquiry if there is any problem in oil supply system.
He directed the petitioner to satisfy the bench on the next date of hearing – June 25 – how this court could interfere into the affairs of the executive.
He also rejected the OMC’s request to grant a stay order against show cause notices served to the oil company and also issued notices to the respondents on the stay request
Last week, another OMC had moved the IHC using almost similar ground. The IHC on June 18 issued noticed to respondents in that petition. The court will take up that case also on June 25.
Petrol prices have continued to drop in the international market in the wake of coronavirus pandemic and the federal government also reduced fuel prices to transfer the benefit to people. However, there emerged a shortage of fuel in various parts of the country in early June.
The federal cabinet on June 9 took serious notice of this “artificial” shortage as Prime Minister Imran Khan directed the petroleum division and Ogra – the fuel regulator – to ensure that supply of petrol across the country within 48 to 72 hours.
He had ordered concerned authorities to take strict action against those responsible for creating the shortage. On June 9, the government initiated an inquiry against the OMCs allegedly involvement in whipping up the crisis and constituted the fuel crisis committee.
The committee, headed by the FIA Director General Oil Shafiur Rehman Afridi, comprised general manager operations of the state-owned PSO, Ogra and the FIA.
The committee was to investigate alleged hoarding and black marketing of petroleum products by the OMCs. It was also to verify availability of stocks at depots of the OMCs and their supply to retail outlets.
The committee on June 11 sought registration of cases against heads of two major OMCs for allegedly hoarding and black marketing of petrol after inspecting their terminals at Karachi’s Keamari Port.
The committee also submitted an application to the assistant commissioner of the Sub-Division Harbour of Karachi’s West district, seeking registration of FIRs against them. The committee had received complaints against these two companies.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on June 18 also ordered action against 9 OMCs including cancellation of their licences and arrest of their officials after the fuel crisis committee found them involved in deliberately creating a petrol shortage in the country by hoarding the fuel.