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May 11, 2021

SHC orders blocking of Zakat cards with open pin codes

The Sindh High Court has taken exception to the handing over of around 200,000 ATM cards by the Sindh Bank to Zakat offices for the distribution of Guzara allowance to deserving persons with an open pin code in violation of the banking rules and ordered the Sindh Bank to block such cards immediately.

Hearing a petition with regard to the distribution of Zakat to deserving citizens, a single bench headed by Justice Salahuddin Panhwar observed that it is the absolute responsibility of the Zakat Council to ensure direct payments of such amounts to the Mustahqeen through the prescribed procedure of a cross cheque or an e-sahulat card with biometric verification.

The court observed that it is strange that a bank is violating rules by issuing and handing over around 200,000 ATM cards to Zakat offices with open pin codes. To a court query, a bank officer submitted that this practice was started in the year 2014. However, he admitted that the State Bank rules of 2016 do not permit the procedure adopted by the Sindh Bank dealing with Zakat councils.

The secretary for the religious affairs and Zakat and Ushr department submitted that it would be in the interest of justice to ensure that the amount is distributed through a biometric verification system by bank officials to individuals as registered with the Zakat Council.

The court observed that such continuity of practice could not be allowed and ordered blocking ATM cards with open pin codes. The court directed the Sindh Bank to disable all open pin codes assigned to Guzara allowance cards and ensure that the amount is paid through the biometric verification system as agreed with the National Database Registration Authority.

It directed the Sindh government to ensure immediate satisfaction of a signed memorandum of understanding so as to ensure the functioning of the biometric procedure for the payment of the Guzara allowance to deserving persons.

The court however observed that all the components shall extend every cooperation in making such practice functional so that the right of deserving persons is not prejudiced for an indefinite period in the name of process. It observed that it is the absolute responsibility of the Zakat Council that deserving persons receive his/ her due amount; therefore, till the time such a procedure is adopted those holding such cards shall be assured payments through cross-cheques.

Regarding health care, the secretary of religious affairs submitted that the healthcare amount distributed to the districts is to be released by committees apart of social welfare officers, Zakat local councils and medical superintendents of the relevant hospitals. The secretary admitted that in the disbursement of the healthcare amount, the role of the chairman of the Zakat Council had been excluded.

Regarding social welfare and rehabilitation, he said there were approved institutions and the Zakat Council was required to release Zakat to those institutions like orphanage and disabled persons. However, unfortunately, in the majority of districts such institutions were not in existence; hence, this amount lapsed ever year, he added.

The secretary of religious affairs and district officers submitted that the department was not providing any marriage assistance for those destitute women nestled in public shelter homes and assured the court that they would carry out marriage ceremonies at district and divisional levels by increasing the amount of dowry and would also arrange the marriage of girls, nestled in shelter homes if they intended to contract marriage.

The secretary said the amount for marriage assistance for unmarried women, social welfare and rehabilitation shall be paid to deserving persons in the presence of assistant commissioner and in the presence of officers of the women development department as well as the chairman of the Zakat Council and that the record shall be maintained for database. The court observed that the Zakat Council shall also consider joint marriages which shall help in lessening the expenditure.

It directed the secretary of the Zakat Council to launch a website of the council and update the complete record, ensuring that the amount of Zakat is released and utilised in accordance with law.

The court observed that such an exercise be completed within two months and in case of failure his act would be considered as pejorative and he shall be liable for penal action.

The court also directed the chairman of the Zakat Council to ensure a fresh exercise for new lists for entitlements of Zakat as Guzara allowance and those lists shall be displayed on the official website, but assuring no harm and prejudice to the dignity of such registered persons which shall be handed over to the Sindh Bank for the issuance of ATM cards. The lists shall be handed over to every district under the supervision of the assistant commissioners and district Zakat officers concerned as well as to the chairman of Zakat Council in either case,

by holding ceremonies arranged by the deputy commissioners.