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Saturday December 04, 2021

Coronavirus: Supreme Court orders making unified policy

The Supreme Court questioned the NDMA decision for declaring Haji Camp as quarantine centre and observed as to why it was done so without providing proper facilities over there

May 05, 2020

Coronavirus: Supreme Court orders making unified policy

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday expressed dissatisfaction over the reports submitted by the federation with regard to COVID-19.

The apex court questioned the transparency of the manners in which the government is taking measures for controlling the crisis and directed the government to formulate a unified policy in this regard.

The court also questioned the decision of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) for declaring Haji Camp as quarantine centre and observed as to why it was done so without providing proper facilities over there.

The court observed that cause of lack of coordinated policy is disagreement among the government functionaries in the federal government as all the executives have failed to deliver. The court sought explanation from the head of NDMA before the next date of hearing.

A five-member larger bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed heard a suo motu case regarding combating the pandemic of coronavirus.

During the course of hearing, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed observed that there is nothing in the reports submitted by the federal government adding that it is all a routine work going mentioning what has been purchased and what not.

“There is no transparency in anything”, the CJP remarked adding that there is worst condition in the whole country.

The chief justice asked Health Secretary as to whether he has visited the Haji Camp in pursuance of their order issued on the last date of hearing to which the official said that he visited the quarantine centre in Haji Camp which was not functional but found there 100 beds adding that in every room, there are fourbeds. He further said that water facilities was there but no electricity although he found a generator there.

The chief justice asked federal health secretary as to whether he has ever realised how people are facing a lot of difficulties at the quarantine centre. The Health Secretary, however, informed the court that the said quarantine centre in Haji camp has been shifted to a hostel having 48 rooms.

“How did you declare it as a quarantine centre without providing basic facilities?,” the CJP asked, however, the Health Secretary replied that National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was the sponsoring agency. The chief justice then asked as to who is representing the NDMA. To this Attorney General Khalid Javed replied that it has filed its report but on one is here on its behalf.

Advocate General Islamabad told the court that it was the subject of the federal government adding that Deputy Commissioner Islamabad is present in the courtroom.

Meanwhile Hamza Shafqaat, Deputy Commissioner Islamabad came to the rostrum. The CJP asked him as to who made the Haji Camp as quarantine centre to which Deputy Commissioner replied that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has declared it as quarantine centre adding that they have just served two-time meal to the passengers.

The chief justice observed that no facilities are available to the people adding that billions of rupees are being spent on testing kits and PPs but there is no result.

“Facts will come to the surface after the audit of the expenditure being incurred on the pandemic,” the CJP observed adding that people are being exploited in the wake of the present crisis.

“We don’t know as to what is going on, the CJP remarked and asked Health Secretary that the quarantine centre established at Pak-China Friendship Centre was in the government control but not China. “But still we don’t know about its performance as well as what kind of facilities are being provided there.”

Health Secretary told the court that 10,000 people are tested for the pandemic on daily basis of which 1,000 persons’ tests come positive

“There is a pathetic condition everywhere while the business of the people came to halt,” the CJP observed and asked the officials to inquire as to how the businessmen class is suffering.

“There is a total exploitation and it seems that the government is hatching conspiracy against the people,” the CJP remarked adding that it should be the obligation of the government to ensure support to the public.

The situation in Punjab is worsening and there is an alarming casualties in Lahore”, Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin observed.

The chief justice while addressing the officials said, “You have only powers in 25 kilometers (Islamabad).”

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, another member of the bench, observed that none of the province has come up to the policy evolved in the crisis.

“You have opened up all the mosques but closed all the business and markets and killing people with starvation,” Sajjad Ali Shah asked Advocate General Punjab who was on videolink from Lahore Registry. The judge said that 90 percent of the mosques are not following the SOPs of social distancing. “Don’t you think that the virus will spread in these mosques but not in markets and shops?”

The AG, Punjab, however, submitted that they are instructing the people to follow the SOPs regarding social distancing.

The chief justice observed that that there is no unified policy to deal with the pandemic saying one minister is saying different from the other. One provincial minister says that case will be registered against the prime minister,” the CJP remarked adding, “We don’t understand as to what is going on.”

During the hearing, the chief justice also raised question as to whether the provinces can impose restrictions, which is the subject of the federation. “We have fourth schedule in the constitution,” the CJP said asking, “Can a provincial government exercise its power while imposing restrictions over business activities, which is the subject of the federal government?”

Certainly not, Attorney General Khalid Javed replied and endorsed the observation of the CJP. He also read out Article 151 of the constitution.

Salman Talibuddin, Advocate General Sindh on video link from Karachi Registry told the court that the provincial government under section 3(1) of Sindh Coronavirus Emergency Relief Ordinance, can take effective preventive measures for the people.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, however, observed that Article 151 of the constitution empowers the provincial government to act but with the approval of the President of Pakistan.

“We are cooperating with federation”, Attorney General Khalid Javed submitted and pointed out that the decision to impose restrictions on business activities was taken with consensus in a meeting held earlier wherein all the provinces representatives were present.

“But one has to file proper application for resuming the business activity,” the CJP observed. Attorney General, however, said that it is a provincial subject while he is referring to the federal government adding that the most appropriate forum is Parliament to further deal with the matter.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial observed that in all the hearings of the instant matter, they have talked extensively that there must be coordination and there should be a unified policy underling as to what sort of business activity should be allowed and what not.

“There is no uniform policy between the federal and provincial governments while the matter is leading towards a glaring situation. Who is restraining the federal government and the provinces to come up with a unified policy”, Justice Bandial questioned.

“There should be a unified policy and there should be inter-provincial coordination wherein the plight of people as well as trade should be considered. Nowadays people are forced to travel while hiding in trucks”, Justice Bandial remarked adding that people coming from Karachi are being charged Rs25,000 a person which is equivalent to airfare.

“We are here to look after the rights of the people guaranteed in the constitution and we will bring the instant proceeding in the matter in hand to its logical conclusion,” Justice Bandial said.

“There is no inter-provincial coordination”, Justice Bandial added. Attorney General Khalid Javed however, submitted that the National Coordination Committee is a forum wherein all the provinces represented.

The AG suggested that meeting of the National Coordination Committee should once again be convened to consider the valid observations of the court.

The chief justice observed that national consensus must be developed for which there is a dire need of legislation. “Until and unless you don’t legislate, nothing can be done,” the CJP added.

Referring to the problems being faced by the people while travelling to their native villages and town, Khalid Javed said that the train service may be made functional for Eid adding that he has somewhere seen the statement of the Minister for Railways.

Chief Justice observed when even the amount of charity was not spared than what one can expect. Attorney General Khalid Javed while referring to the report submitted by the Auditor General of Pakistan clarified that there was no allegation or objection of embezzlement to the distribution of zakat. He said that after the AGP filed the report he had contacted him and it was told that all matters are in process of reconciliation.

In pursuance of the court’s earlier direction, the Auditor General of Pakistan the other day had submitted report in the Supreme Court that revealed that irregularities to the tune of Rs3.1 billion in Pakistan Baitul Mal and Rs574 million in Zakat during the last audit year 2019-20.

Deputy Auditor General through Attorney General office, had informed the Supreme Court that in the Audit of Zakat fund during the last Audit Year 2019-20 total budget of Zakat department was Rs7.38 billion.

“A sample audit of 13 percent of this budget amounting to Rs961 million was carried out in which irregularities of Rs574 million were pointed out which is 60 percent of the audited amount, the report stated.

It was further revealed that Pakistan Baitul Mal annual budget is Rs5 billion adding that an audit of 100 percent budget was carried out and irregularities to the tune of Rs3.1 billion were found by the audit.

The irregular expenditure in the case of Baitul Mal was 62 percent while an amount of Rs475 million recoveries were pointed out, according to the report. On Monday, Attorney General submitted that now they have data based system through which Zakat is distributed among the needy people.

During the hearing, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah pointed out to Advocate General Khyber Pukhthunkhwa as to why large number of private clinics of consultant doctors have been closed at Dabgrai Garden Peshawar adding that the police scuffled with the people as the doctors there were being forced to close their clinics.

“Why you have closed all the plazas there in Dabgari Garden wherein around 2,000 to 3,000 medical consultants are serving the people?” AG KP as well as Health Secretary did not give satisfactory answer to the court.

Meanwhile, the court after expressing dissatisfaction over the answer of the provincial secretary health and Advocate General directed Health Secretary to visit Dabgari Garden and inquire from doctors therein if they were maltreated at the hands of police and after such visit a report should be filed before it before the next date of hearing.

The court while expressing dissatisfaction over the decision of National Coordination Committee regarding coronavirus directed evolving a unified policy and observed that if steps were not taken in this regard, it will be forced to issue an interim order in this regard.

The court also took notice of the complaints against National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and observed that it was complained that NDMA provides necessary material to its own hospitals and whatever, is left it dispatched to public sector hospitals.

The court sought explanation from the head of the National Disaster Management Authority as to why it declared Haji Camp as quarantine centre before inspecting it and without basic facilities and why it was later shifted to a hostel. The court also directed it to inform it about the expenditure incurred on it as well as on its shifting.

The court also thanked Allama Taqi Usmani as well as Chairman Islamic Ideology Council for giving their valuable opinions in respect of Zakat and noted down that these opinions are a source of guidance for it. Meanwhile, the court adjourned the hearing for two weeks.