The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday issued notices to the ministry of railways and others on a petition seeking resumption of train operations from different destinations of the country.
Petitioner Mohammad Yaqoob had submitted in the petition that people were facing hardship from travelling from one place to another due to the suspension of the train operations in the country since March 24.
He submitted that the federal government had also started flight operations of the national flag carrier to bring the overseas Pakistanis trapped in different parts of the world, whereas the Pakistan Railways seemed to be least concerned about the plight and miseries of the citizens of the country who were trapped in different cities.
He submitted that a large number of poor citizens were unable to afford the higher private vehicle charges for travelling from one province to another and requested the high court to direct the federal government to allow limited operations of railways so that tge stranded families and citizens could return to their homes from different parts of the country.
The SHC was requested to direct the Pakistan Railways to start operations of the Hazara Express, Karakoram Express, Jinnah Express, Bolan Express, Khyber Mail and Millat Express so that people stranded in other areas could return to their home.
A division bench of the SHC headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar after the preliminary hearing of the petition issued notices to the ministry of railways and others and called their comments on May 8.
Travel agencies’ plea
The Sindh High Court has restrained the International Air Transport Association (IATA) from taking any coercive action against travel agencies, including demanding payment of cancelled tickets of airlines and encashment of guarantees furnished by the agencies.
The interim order came on a lawsuit of travel agents association and others against the IATA demand with regard to payment for cancelled tickets of airlines.
Plaintiffs’ counsel Haider Waheed submitted that some of the plaintiffs had been able to gain partial relief from the defendant; however, some of them were still being compelled to make entire payment of tickets that were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic by the airlines and for travel restrictions imposed world over for the billing cycle starting from March 1 to April 15, 2020.
He submitted that the plaintiffs were being asked to even pay for the cancelled tickets though with an assurance that subsequently when refunds are sanctioned by the airlines, a set-off would be offered to them.
The counsel submitted that the global distribution system of the airlines had been temporarily suspended and the refunds were not being processed on a timely basis and therefore asking the plaintiffs to first make payments of cancelled tickets and then seek adjustment/refund was unwarranted on the part of the defendant which was representing the airlines.
The IATA counsel, Maria Ahmed, submitted that the GDS was not under the control of IATA and they were strictly acting under the terms of the contract and unable to refunds claims immediately and offer adjustment/set off as requested.
She submitted that they were bound by the contract terms which provided the mechanism of refunds and the processing time.
A single bench of the SHC headed by Justice Mohammad Junaid Ghaffar after hearing the arguments of the counsel observed that the conduct of the IATA and/or the airlines cannot be appreciated inasmuch as they were first asking the plaintiffs to make payments of the cancelled tickets and then were ready for re-adjustment.
The high court observed that although the defendant have extended the time period of the billing cycle as submitted but at the same time they had not acceded to the request of the plaintiffs which otherwise seemed to be justifiable as of today as this does not appear to be in line with the present situation prevailing in the country and the entire world.
The SHC observed that the IATA had an individual contract with the plaintiffs on behalf of the airlines and now some act of airlines whereby the GDS was not fully functional, the plaintiffs were being coerced to make payment of tickets which admittedly stood cancelled.
The high court observed that the plaintiffs shall make payments of the three billing cycles on the basis of utilised tickets and shall not be asked to make payments of the cancelled tickets for which they have applied and entitled for an adjustment and/or refund subsequently. The SHC also restrained the IATA from taking any coercive action including encashment of the guarantees furnished by the plaintiffs.
The high court issued notices to the plaintiffs and defendant on miscellaneous applications and directed that objections were to be complied with within next 30 days.
The SHC adjourned the hearing for a date to be fixed by the office with regard to directions of the SHC chief justice issued for the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown for the fixation of cases of civil nature.
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