ISLAMABAD, Sept 23: A National Assembly committee will take up the issue of import of allegedly sick sheep on Wednesday, but only after the prime minister and the judiciary have already taken notice of the matter.

The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Ports and Shipping headed by MNA Rana Mahmoodul Hassan of the PML-N has called officials of the ministry and the Port Qasim Authority (PQA) to appear before it on Sept 26 to respond to queries of the members on the import of over 21,000 sheep from Australia.

The meeting’s agenda, a copy of which is available with Dawn, shows that the committee members will focus on the questions: “Why did the PQA allow the sailing of the ship carrying infected sheep? Whether procedural code in this regard was adopted and who received the consignment of the infected sheep?”

The committee is reviewing the matter that has already been taken up by the federal and Sindh governments. The Sindh High Court is also hearing various petitions in this regard.

The import of 21,268 sheep earlier this month raised alarm bells in the country when some media reports suggested that the sheep which were originally destined to Bahrain were infected with scabby and foot and mouth disease.

The ship had arrived in Bahrain on August 29 but was not allowed a berth because of the diseased sheep.

Instead of moving back to Australia, the ship sailed to its unscheduled destination Port Qasim, where the sheep were unloaded and handed over to an importer named Tariq Butt.

Later, the Sindh government ordered culling of the sheep claiming that the laboratory tests showed bacterial presence of salmonella and actinomyces in them.

The importer, Tariq Butt, approached the SHC seeking restraining order against culling by the Karachi municipal administration.

The livestock department and other experts opposed the petitioner’s plea for staying culling of the sheep, submitting that the animals were infected with the deadly disease anthrax, among other diseases, that could widely spread to livestock as well as human beings.

The Australian high commission also insists that the sheep are healthy and the refusal by Bahrain to offload them is puzzling.

The SHC ordered provisional testing by the government and independent veterinary and microbiological experts of the sheep immediately and directed the team to submit its report when the case would be taken up again on Sept 24 (today).

The court ordered, if no sheep was found infected with the anthrax disease, the culling of animals should immediately be stopped till next date of hearing.

The importer is also facing criminal cases registered under the charges of trying to spread infected diseases, handling animals with negligence, attempt to murder, intentionally trying to amputate people, trying to impair the functions and capacity of human body organs and under the Animal Act 1979.

The SHC has also ordered suspension of operation on the FIR registered against the importer.

On Sept 17, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf directed the Sindh government to submit a report in seven days about the import of a large number of infected sheep from Australia and to identify the people responsible.

GWADAR PORT: Officials of the Ministry of Finance, Planning Commission and the National Highway Authority (NHA) will also brief the members of the standing committee on the progress so far made in building a road network linking Gwadar Port in Balochistan with the rest of the country.

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