SC bars govt from selling Pakistan Steel Mills land

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday barred the government from selling land owned by Pakistan Steel Mills to generate funds to pay provident funds and gratuities to mills’ former employees.

The court order came during the hearing of a petition concerning a shortage of funds to pay to former PSM employees. A two-member bench, headed by Justice Gulzar Ahmed, has been hearing the petition.

The case had been presented to the apex court by the Ministry of Production. The deputy advocate general, who was representing the government, told the court that mills did not have sufficient funds to pay salaries and provident funds to employees.

“We are selling the land in order to pay the outstanding dues,” he said.

Justice Ahmed criticized mills’ performance in response, saying: “Pakistan Steel Mills’ output is zero. It has been ruined [by the responsible people] to fill their own pockets.”

“Pakistan Steel Mills was [once] a huge institution. Hundreds of steel mills operated with the help of [PSM],” he recalled. “Cars, trucks and even rockets were prepared in PSM.”

The bench, however, restrained the government from disposing of PSM land to address its financial crisis, saying it cannot be sold as “it belongs to the people [of Pakistan]”.

The hearing was subsequently adjourned for 15 days.

Once the top contributor to the national exchequer, Pakistan Steel Mills has now become an epitome of mismanagement and nepotism. According to the Auditor-General Report 2018-19, salaries of its employees and fixed overheads are being met through bailout packages from the federal government.

The report pointed out that PSM was at zero production level since 2015, but the mill management has not made any effort to recover Rs2.79 billion shown as taxes refundable on its balance sheet from the tax authorities.

In addition to financial woes, the mill has continuously failed to recover around 344 acres of its township land encroached by various entities and the value of land has been estimated at Rs3.44bn by the expert appointed by Privatisation Commission.

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