ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) on Monday stopped the federal government from selling the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) lands in order to pay gratuity and the provident funds to its former employees.

A two-member bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Gulzar Ahmed, conducted hearing of the appeal against the Sindh High Court (SHC) order pertaining to the payment of gratuity as well as provident fund to the PSM workers.

The court, while restraining the government from selling the land of PSM, said it could not be sold as “it belongs to the people’.

In August this year, the SHC had ordered seizure of the accounts of the Ministry of Production till the payment of gratuity and outstanding dues to over 850 retired employees of the PSM.

In 2017, Syed Umar Baqi and 850 retired employees of the PSM had filed a petition before the SHC, complaining that they were not being paid their gratuity, leave encashment and provident funds since 2013 despite the court orders.

They said that PSM had leased its land worth billion of rupees, but the retired employees were not paid their pensions benefits and other dues.

During the hearing on Monday, the deputy attorney general informed that the 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.

However, the apex court rejected the government’s application as the counsel withdrew the appeal against the SHC order to freeze the accounts of the Ministry of Industry and Production.

Justice Gulzar Ahmed expressed disappointment over the steel mill’s performance, and said that the mill was destroyed by the government to fill its own pockets.

The court observed that the underprivileged employees could not be deprived of their lawful rights while the privileged class of employees continued to enjoy.

Later, the court adjourned hearing in this matter for two weeks.