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May 19, 2020

Open malls, markets across country: Supreme Court

Top Story

May 19, 2020

Open malls, markets across country: Supreme Court

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday ordered for reopening of shopping malls and markets for the whole week all-over the country, which had been shut down during the lockdown in the wake of coronavirus (Covid-19).

A five-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, and comprising Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed heard a suo moto case regarding combating of the coronavirus pandemic.

The court also set aside the decision of the National Coordination Committee, notifying the provinces for maintaining complete lockdown on Saturday and Sunday except for essential services.

The National Coordination Committee (NCC) decision, taken on May 7, 2020, is contrary to Article 4, 18 and 25 of the Constitution, hence it is set aside,” the court noted in its order.

“If the businesses and industries remain closed for a long time, their revival will become doubtful, more and more, and in case they are not revived, millions of workers will be on streets and the government may face a human disaster and calamity of such a magnitude that to overcome it may become next to impossible,” the court observed.

The CJ said the rights of people are guaranteed in the Constitution and the government is not doing anyone a favour by rendering its services. The court expressed dissatisfaction over the reports so far submitted by the government.

“So far the report of NDMA [National Disaster Management Authority] is concerned, we are not satisfied at all with such a report. “We would like to hear the learned Attorney General for Pakistan on this report as well, as the security officials of NDMA, for that, we find no reason why so much money is being spent on this coronavirus, as Pakistan is not the country which is seriously affected by it,” the court noted in its order.

The court observed that there are other serious ailments prevailing in the country, from which people are dying daily, but those ailments are not being catered to. And the coronavirus, which apparently is not a pandemic in Pakistan, is swallowing such huge money, remarked the court.

The court directed the National Health Services Regulation and Coordination to give its decision, so that the shopping malls are allowed to open. The court directed that the provincial governments should ensure opening of shops and business activities on Saturday and Sunday, which were closed during the complete lockdown.

“We don’t find any justified reason for closing the shops on weekend,” the court further noted in its order, adding that it is in the convenience of human beings that there is no distinction between other days from Saturday and Sunday.

The court ordered that the businessmen should be allowed to do business on all days, which is permissible subject to standard operating procedures (SOPs). The court directed Advocate General Sindh to approach the National Health Services Regulation and Coordination (NHSRC) for getting approval for re-opening of shopping malls in the Sindh province.

Earlier, Advocate General Sindh Salman Talibuddin, through video-link from Karachi, told the court that shops were opened in the province but big shopping malls were not allowed to open.

When the court asked reason for this, the provincial law officer submitted that the province relied on the decision taken by the National Coordination Committee held on May 7, directing that shopping malls, public congregations, wedding halls and public gatherings would remain closed until May 21, 2020.

The Advocate General for Islamabad Capital Territory informed the court that all shops and markets in the ICT had been allowed to open and the shopping malls, namely, Giga Mall, Centaurs Mall and Safa Gold Mall, had also been allowed to open on Monday.

Similarly, the acting Advocate General Punjab told the court that all shops and markets had been allowed to open in whole of the Punjab and with the permission of NHSRC, the shopping malls all over Punjab would be allowed to open on Monday.

The advocate-generals for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan also made a statement before the court that all shops and markets in those areas had been allowed to open. They all stated that the SOPs regarding coronavirus would be maintained however, and the respective governments would ensure their implementation.

The court noted that all shopping malls in the ICT and Punjab would be opened on Monday. As far as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan are concerned, it is stated by their respective Advocate Generals that they did not have any shopping malls, and shops and markets had been allowed to open and they were doing business.

The acting Advocate General Punjab told the court that the provincial government had approached the NHSRC for obtaining the approval for opening of the shopping malls and similar had been done in the ICT and both Punjab and ICT were likely to get permission for opening of the shopping malls on Monday.

“If such can be done by the biggest province of Pakistan i.e. Punjab, why the similar cannot be done by the province of Sindh and apparently, we find no valid reason or justification for the same,” the court observed in its order.

“In the circumstances, we direct the government of Sindh to apply to the NHSRC today, for seeking approval for opening of shopping malls in the province,” the court noted down in its order.

“Looking at the past history of Pakistan, where business activities of private entrepreneurs was interfered with by the government, such entrepreneurs lost faith in the system and packed up and moved to some other destinations in the world, where they consider their investment to be more safe and profitable,” the court noted in its order.

On the basis of the health secretary submission, the court observed that over the years in the ICT, almost one thousand people die only on account of pollen allergy. “We note that thousands of people die on account of brain haemorrhage, cardiac failure, hepatitis, dengue, kidney failure, liver failure, pulmonary and other related ailments and all these deaths go in hundreds of thousands every year.

“We are not suggesting by any means that the governments should not attend to coronavirus, but we expect that the governments should not put all its resources for this one disease, nor the country should be made altogether dysfunctional, because of this disease.

“Its consequences will be highly detrimental to the people of Pakistan, and the federal government and all provincial governments should address themselves on this point,” the court noted.

During the course of hearing, the CJ observed that the people are not the slaves of federal and provincial governments.

“Do you know after two three months, millions of people will become jobless while the businessmen will flee,” the CJ remarked while addressing the law officers. “If the situation persists, people will take to the streets. How you will control the situation then? Will you kill them,” the CJ questioned.

Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin, another member of the bench, while addressing the secretary health Punjab, said that a cancer patient with third and fourth stage, when visits a hospital in Rawalpindi was asked by doctors to visit a private hospital.

The Punjab secretary, however, told the court that if that was done by the said doctors, it was misconduct on their part, adding that if they were found responsible would be proceeded against.

The chief justice said that although doctors community were doing well while dealing with the present crisis, there were big wolves in the said community as well, who taking huge commission while prescribing the medicines of pharmaceutical companies.

The CJ added that after promoting the products, these doctors get the benefits of taking foreign tours at the expenses of companies. We know everything and even people also know,” the CJ remarked, adding that third class medicines were being provided to patients in public sector hospitals.

The Outdoor Patient Departments (OPDs) of the government hospitals were flooded with patients while doctors, instead of attending them, were busy in ‘gup-shup’ [gossips] and taking tea.

The CJ said that if the shops were shut down, shopkeepers would die of hunger rather than coronavirus.

The CJ said that in Karachi, except for five big malls, every market has resumed operations. Commissioner Karachi Iftikhar Shallwani, however, said that a few markets were sealed for not following the SOPs, laid out by the government.

The CJ said that the closed markets should be opened and instead of intimidating them (shop owners), they should be persuaded to follow the SOPs.

The court also raised questions over the performance of the NDMA. Chief Jutice Gulzar Ahmed said that billions of rupees had been spent on coronavirus and questioned as to where did that money go.

A representative of NDMA, however, told the court that Rs25 billion had been allocated to them, adding that the whole allocated mount was not yet spent.

The CJ noted that the provinces were separately allotted the fund while the amount allocated under the Ehsaas Programme was an additional fund meant for dealing with the pandemic.

The CJ observed that spending billions of rupees and dealing with the pandemic was useless when the virus took the lives of 600 people

Whether you are constructing high-rise building with Rs25 billion, the CJ questioned. The NDMA representative replied that the allocated amount was not yet received, adding that there were other expenditures as well. Later, the court adjourned the hearing for today (Tuesday).