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KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Tuesday directed the district judicial officers of Tharparkar to inspect and monitor the ongoing relief work and collate information on the death toll due to famine and outbreak of epidemics in the drought-hit part of the province.

A two-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Maqbool Baqar gave this direction while hearing a constitutional petition seeking measures to deal with the Tharparkar tragedy that has claimed over 200 lives so far.

The bench directed the district and sessions judge of Tharparkar to either directly or through other judicial officers inspect/watch the ongoing relief work and collect data regarding the number of deaths so far caused by epidemics or food shortage.It further ordered: “The judicial officers seized of the task shall also, as far as possible, watch the ongoing relief work by various government agencies, more particularly, the food supply, medicine supply, remedial and preventive measures towards health and securing life of the inhabitants.”

The bench also asked the judicial officials to visit hospitals, health centres and relief camps in the area.

It directed the respective judges to submit their reports by the next hearing, issued notices to the all the respondents, the advocate general for Sindh and the deputy attorney general and put off the matter to March 18.

The petition was filed by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and Javed Iqbal Burki, who impleaded the secretary of establishment division, ministry of national food security and research, interior minister, director general of the Federal Investigating Agency, Sindh chief secretary, local government secretary, provincial revenue and relief secretary, health secretary, secretary of ministry of national regulations and services, and federal and provincial chief of the National Disaster Management Authority as respondents.

The petitioners, represented by Advocates Faisal Siddiqui and Muhammad Vawda, submitted that more than 200 people, including women and children, died in Tharparkar as a direct result of, inter-alia, famine, malnutrition, disease and criminal negligence of the official respondents.

Through the petition, they sought justice and enforcement of fundamental rights and the law, for the victims, the survivors and their families, and directions from the high court to deal with the Tharparkar tragedy and to avoid such tragedies in the future.

It was submitted that most areas of Tharparkar district, including Tehsil/Taluka Mithi, Chachro, Diplo, Islamkot, Nagarparkar and Khinsar, were facing a famine-like situation and over 200 people, a majority of whom reported to be malnourished children, died, and over 175,000 families were reported to have been affected and some of them have been forced to leave their homes and move to barrage areas.

The petitioner stated that the Tharparkar district, with an estimated population of 1.5 million, was ranked by the World Food Programme as the most food insecure of the country’s 120 districts.

It was pointed out that Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah reportedly acknowledged the negligence and failure of the local administration in the Tharparkar tragedy and named “pneumonia” and “malnutrition” as the main causes of the deaths holding the local administration, officials of health and livestock departments and the police responsible for the incident.

The petitioner said the Supreme Court of Pakistan reportedly noted that the ongoing Tharparkar tragedy was a direct result of the negligence of the provincial government and even the advocate general of Sindh reportedly admitted before the apex court that there was negligence on part of the provincial government.

It is submitted that such a large number of deaths and sick/malnourished persons have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the aforementioned respondents as well as the entire machinery of the state failed to effectively respond to the Tharparkar tragedy and this criminal negligence on their part led to the death toll being substantially greater in number than it should reasonably have been if there was an effective response on part of the state machinery.They said that the right to life under Article 9 of the constitution included a right to food and a right to be free from starvation and severe malnutrition.

Therefore, the petitioners said, it was obligatory on the provincial as well as the federal government to pay such compensation to every person affected by death and severe health problem caused by starvation and severe malnutrition.

They contended that the criminal negligence was also an offence under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860. “Since the officials of the Sindh government are directly criminally liable, it is appropriate that the FIA and the Sindh chief secretary should conduct an investigation and assign the responsibility for the ongoing Tharparkar tragedy and further, initiate criminal proceedings against such persons.

The petitioners argued that the affected people of the Tharparkar tragedy were entitled to all kind of relief not limited to food and health services free of cost for a timeframe to be determined by the court.

They said that it was imperative to prevent such tragedy that the provincial and federal governments take the following measures, namely, create a permanent monitoring set-up/unit in district Tharparkar in order to prevent future deaths due to starvation and severe malnutrition, to publish a detailed programme of measures to be taken by them to prevent such future deaths and to establish a commission of well-reputed members of civil society to periodically monitor the government constitutional obligations to implement the right to food of the citizens and persons living in the province.

The petitioners asked the court to declare that the provincial and central governments failed to perform their constitutional duty under Article 9, read with, Article 38(d), Constitution, 1973, by failing to prevent deaths caused due to starvations and severe malnutrition.

They further asked the court to direct the two governments to pay reasonable and appropriate compensation for every death caused by starvation and severe malnutrition during the Tharparkar tragedy, as well as to all persons who suffered severe health problems caused by starvation and severe malnutrition during the Tharparkar tragedy.