ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday upheld a petition seeking a ban on the issuance of permits and licences for the hunting of endangered birds and also ordered the cancellation of all existing permits in this regard.

A three-member bench headed by SC Chief Justice Jawwad S Khawaja, who was accompanied by Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Qazi Faez Isa, upheld a petition filed by Advocate Raja Muhammad Farooq on behalf of Aamir Zahoor-ul-Haq, said the short order of the judgement.

The bench dismissed all other petitions opposing Zahoor-ul-Haq's petition, including an application filed by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl provincial deputy chief Senator Maulana Attaur Rehman of the Balochistan government.

The elder from Balochistan was of the view that permitting foreign dignitaries to hunt the bird brought prosperity and welfare not only to the people, but also the province.

“The dignitaries who come to hunt the bird have not only established certain projects but are also paying Rs10 million for hunting 50 birds in season,” Attaur Rehman had said through his counsel, Advocate Adnan Bhasharatullah, adding that the province earned approximately Rs2 billion every hunting season.

Aamir Zahoor-ul-Haq's petition requested the court to restrain the foreign affairs ministry and the wildlife department from issuing permits and licences for hunting of the endangered birds.

The petitioner had also asked the court to order the setting up of an independent commission to look into the alleged abrogation of their “statutory duty” by the respondents and violation of the provisions of permits and licences by the VIP hunters.

The petition recalled that Pakistan had imposed a permanent ban on the hunting of houbara bustards under the Third Schedule of the Pakistan Wildlife Ordinance 1971, after declaring the species a protected bird. But despite the ban, licences or permits were being issued to VIP dignitaries of the Gulf States for hunting the species.

The petition cited media reports and said as many as 33 special permits had been granted to the foreign dignitaries for hunting of the species during the year 2013-14, specifically allocating areas in the country’s four provinces for the purpose.

Whereas the permits allow hunting down of up to 100 birds, this limit is often crossed by the hunters.

The petition said the issuance of licences/permits for hunting of the species should be declared illegal and unlawful without lawful authority and jurisdiction.

The petition said that special permits were being issued also in violation of laws like the Punjab Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act 1974.

The houbara bustard is listed in the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals, also known as the Bonn Convention, and its irrationally brutal hunting in its winter habitats is highly objectionable, especially because it is an endangered species.

It has also been declared as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species because it has undergone rapid population declines over three decades owing to unsustainable hunting as well as habitat degradation. Pakistan is signatory to the conventions.

According to the petition, a large number of houbara bustards are trapped, mainly in Pakistan and Iran, and shipped to Arab countries for use in training falcons to hunt.

Also read: SC criticises grant of licences for houbara bustard hunting