KARACHI, Oct 24: The Supreme Court on Wednesday observed that incidence of extortion had increased during the current year in the city where there was hardly any businessman or trader who was not paying protection money to extortionists.
Justice Anwer Zaheer Jamali, the head of the five-member larger bench that started rehearing the suo motu case related to frequent killings in Karachi, said that the money extortion groups had divided areas in the city and now they had stopped sending ‘ransom chits’ and started approaching the victims directly.
He said that certain parts of the city seemed to have been divided on ethnic, sectarian and political bases, leading to the killing of rivals.
“This is another form of no-go areas,” he added.
Justice Jamali said that the police department had failed to protect rights of citizens due to political interference. He said that the police were operating at the behest of politicians and the officials were more loyal to political parties than their own institution.
Justice Khilji Arif Hussain observed that police were duty-bound to protect the life and property of citizens, but a number of people had been killed over the past 13 months as the police failed to perform their duty efficiently.
Justice Jamali said the people of the city thanked God the day only three people were reported killed, considering it a decline in targeted killings. “This is our mindset now,” he added.
When the bench asked Advocate General Abdul Fatah Malik to inform it what measures the provincial government had planned for curbing violence in the city, he said “score of today’s killing was six”.
Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany came down heavily on the AG asking him “Is loss of people’s life mere scoring to you?”
The AG stated that the situation in Balochistan was worse than that of Karachi, with the additional home secretary adding that the murder rate of Karachi and Lahore was almost same.
The bench, however, did not agree with the officials’ contentions and one of the bench members remarked that the state of affairs at one place could not be taken as a reason for the situation in another province.
During the hearing, the bench ordered cancellation of all non-computerised arms licences within six months.
Justice Jamali observed that the authorities concerned should give a deadline through newspaper advertisements for cancellation of the arms licences. “This is the only way out. If a proper procedure is adopted in this regard, no one will challenge the cancellation of arms licences,” he added.
The bench directed the advocate general to ensure that a policy was devised for computerisation of all arms licences.
When Justice Jamali inquired from the home secretary if the public representatives and ministers had the authority to make recommendations for the issuance of arms licences, the home secretary replied that the deputy commissioner issued arms licences after verification.
Justice Khilji remarked that instead of issuing arms licences to the citizens, the police should perform their duty of protecting citizens.
Justice Jamali said even certain criminals who were wanted in eight to 10 cases were issued arms licences. “There is no system of checks and balances,” he said.
The home secretary said that the government should carry out an assessment of arms licences in collaboration with the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra).
Justice Amir Hani Muslim observed that the court was not concerned with political issues. He said that there was no lull in the incidence of killings in the city despite the order of the apex court.
Justice Jamali said that the court was concerned with the safety and protection of citizens. “The situation can’t improve if important issues are compromised,” he said.
When the home secretary and the inspector-general of police informed the court that 1,897 people were killed during this year, while the toll was 1,924 last year, Justice Gulzar Ahmed remarked that this year toll was bound to exceed over the next two months.
Justice Hani observed that the nature of crime in Karachi was different from that in other cities. He said that the land mafia was one of the main factors behind violent activities in the city. “Everyone knows who is behind what,” he remarked.
Additional Inspector General of Police Iqbal Mehmood, the city police chief, informed the court that only two out of 10 victims on Tuesday lost their life to targeted attacks, while the remaining murders were motivated by personal and monetary disputes.
The bench asked IGP Fayyaz Leghari what steps were taken to depoliticise the police force. The police chief submitted that the process of verification of the police personnel’s credentials was under way.
Justice Jamali remarked: “This is the time to make merit the sole criterion.” The judge told the police chief that an SP posted with the backing of an MNA would not pay any heed to orders of the police chief. The bench directed the police chief to submit a detailed and comprehensive report on the matter.
The director general of Sindh Rangers, Major General Rizwan Akhtar, informed the court that monthly meetings were being held with the Sindh High Court chief justice in chair.
The bench asked the DG Rangers if he was under any pressure from any quarters in performing his duty. The Rangers’ chief said there was no pressure on him and that the police and Rangers conducted joint operations independently.
The court asked the AG and the chief secretary what steps were taken on the SC order for the change of the constituency demarcated on an ethnic basis.
The court was informed that fresh demarcation of constituencies was not possible at present, as it could not be done without new census. The election commission stated that the new local bodies system had been enacted, while its implementation would take some time.
At the outset of the hearing, the bench expressed displeasure over all high-ranking police officers’ presence in the court, ordering SHOs to go to their respective areas.
The bench also ordered removal of police vans in front of the SC Karachi registry.
The hearing was adjourned till Thursday.