ISLAMABAD: Objecting to grant of licences by the Foreign Office for hunting houbara bustards by foreign dignitaries, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday the federal government apparently did not have the authority to issue such permissions.

“Upon hearing the law officers concerned and going through the constitutional provisions and the relevant laws, it appears that the federal government prima facie has no authority to issue permission for hunting houbara bustard by the foreign dignitaries in the four provinces,” observed Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja while dictating an order.

A two-judge bench headed by Justice Khawaja had taken up a petition moved by Advocate Raja Mohammad Farooq on behalf of Aamir Zahoor-ul-Haq.

Also read-Editorial: Houbara hunters

The petition has requested the court to order setting up of an independent commission to look into the extreme apathy, inactivity and deliberate skipping of the statutory duty devolved upon the federal and provincial governments in allowing permits and licences to the dignitaries which were often misused, exploited and violated. As a result, vulnerable birds like houbara bustard face extinction.

Syed Mohammad Ali of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s conservation department told the court that the province had refused to allow the foreign dignitaries to hunt houbara bustard, the endangered migratory bird, in D.I. Khan, Lakki Marwat and Bannu districts.

The court was informed that the federal government had allocated areas — three each in all provinces for hunting the bird. The court asked the federal and four provincial governments to submit detailed reports by Aug 11 and if they were found to be unsatisfactory the foreign secretary should keep him available on that day to be summoned on a 15-minute notice to explain why such permissions were being granted.

“These birds are our assets but we are dolling them out to foreign dignitaries and princes,” Justice Khawaja observed and asked how this act was different from those of people who were selling their souls and bodies.

“This amounts to surrendering of our sovereignty,” observed Justice Dost Mohammad Khan, regretting that the Arab princes, who stash their money in countries like Switzerland and the US but cannot even spoil plant leaves in those countries, come to Pakistan to hunt these birds.

In his petition, Advocate Raja Farooq has pleaded before the court to stop the foreign affairs ministry and the wildlife department agencies from issuing permits and licences for hunting of the endangered birds.

The petition recalled that Pakistan had imposed a permanent ban on the hunting of houbara bustard under the Third Schedule of the Pakistan Wildlife Ordinance, 1971, after declaring the species a protected bird, but despite the ban and strong reaction from the civil society the licences or permits were being issued to the dignitaries of the Gulf countries.

Citing media reports, the petition said as many as 33 special permits had been issued to the dignitaries of five Gulf countries for hunting of the protected houbara bustard during the season year 2013-14 specifically allocating a number of areas in all four provinces of Pakistan.

Whereas the permits/licences allow and allocate hunting of 100 birds the stipulation is flouted and frustrated utterly, unchecked and uncontrolled “to vanish the valuable and vulnerable species”. One of the reports said that 2,100 birds were hunted, the petition said.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2015

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