PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is in a fix as it has yet to decide whether to take action against Minister for Health and Finance Taimur Saleem Jhagra for violating the Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs).
The provincial home secretary and attorney general were scheduled to hold a meeting Tuesday night to discuss the issue. It is to be noted that the KP government has banned all public gatherings and dining at restaurants in the province.
The Covid-19 pandemic has particularly hit hard the districts of Peshawar and Mardan with the steep rise in the number of new cases and deaths. It is common knowledge that the real numbers are much higher than what is being reported officially. The FIR was lodged at the Sarband Police Station for violating sections 6 through 17 of the KP Epidemic Control and Emergency Relief Act 2020 after photos of an Iftar party featuring the minister went viral on social media on Monday.
The government’s record in dealing with the pandemic so far has not been something to be proud of. Recently the army has been called to help the civilian administration in ensuring that proper SOPs are followed by the public. This correspondent saw on Tuesday majority of the people violating SOPs in Saddar bazaar, Peshawar’s busy business centre.
Lately, the ministers have been making a lot of noise stressing the importance of compliance with SOPs. The SOPs have been formulated to ensure that people wear masks, avoid gatherings, and stick to social distancing to help decrease the spread of the deadly virus. It has always been felt that the government needs to lead by example to impress upon the people to follow the SOPs.
Every now and then the public comes across examples wherein the leaders are shown not complying with the SOPs. One such example recently was a meeting held at the Chief Minister’s office with representatives of traders of Peshawar. The official photograph showed the majority of the participants, including the provincial minister Shaukat Yousafzai, not wearing masks in a crowded room. The only exception was the chief minister himself.
No example of violation of SOPs, however, has been as shocking as the episode of the Iftar party featuring none but the health minister of the province. Taimur Jhagra has been tweeting a lot about the importance of adherence to the SOPs. For him to violate them has prompted many people to ask if all his words have only been mere talk and nothing else.
Taimur Jhagra was seen in photographs taken at the Hujra Restaurant on Ring Road near Hayatabad. According to a rough count, there are at least 50 people attending the Iftar-dinner. All are sitting tightly packed with no social distancing between them. According to some reports, the restaurant was closed but opened only for this particular event.
The pictures went viral and the district administration took prompt notice of it. The restaurant was sealed after lodging of the FIR. The public has been particularly praising Assistant Commissioner Adil Ayub for taking this bold step.
There has been a strong reaction from the public on social media and calls for resignation of the minister have been made. Even after more than 20 hours of the episode, neither Taimur Jhagra nor Chief Minister Mahmood Khan or the spokesman of the provincial government, Kamran Bangash have commented on it.
The News tried to contact Taimur Jhagra and sent him a list of questions, but he didn’t respond. Taimur Jhagra was asked if it was the right thing to do to attend a crowded Iftar party in the midst of a deadly epidemic. He was also asked if he believes that he violated the SOPs and if he plans to contest the allegations levelled in the FIR. He was further asked if he had talked to the chief minister since the episode.
The News also asked him if he thinks he can keep asking the people to follow the SOPs after violating them. He was questioned if has given any thought to reconsidering his continuing presence in the cabinet in the wake of such a serious violation of the law. Another question put to him was that given his experience of living in the West for a part of his life, what would happen there if a government minister violated the law so publicly.
The biggest question that has arisen and which The News posed to Taimur Jhagra was if his moral authority as a minister and people’s representative has eroded after violating the law. It must be noted that the minister has not merely violated an advice issued by the government. In fact, prima facie, he has violated the law as enshrined in the KP Epidemic Control and Emergency Relief Act 2020. He has literally put the lives of many in danger for possibly providing an opportunity to the deadly corona virus to spread.
There is also this question if the law is for the common man only and should a minister continue after violating the law so blatantly and publicly? Not only Taimur Jhagra, but the chief minister and prime minister need to answer this pertinent question.
A senior Pakistan Tehreek-I-Insaf (PTI) leader and cabinet member told The News on condition of anonymity that Prime Minister Imran Khan was shocked when he came to know about the Iftar-dinner of Taimur Jhagra.
“Actually the government has called the army only to help ensure that SOPs are implemented. This one incident involving the health minister damaged the entire cause,” he said.
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