KARACHI: Thirteen inspectors general of police in Sindh had been removed and transferred over the past 10 years, and though the incumbent IGP fought a good fight he could, eventually, have to succumb to the prevailing system, said speakers at a forum organised by the Urban Resource Centre here on Thursday.

Advocate Faisal Siddiqi and Piler executive director Karamat Ali were prominent among those who spoke on the benefits of public interest litigation (PIL) at the forum.

Referring to IG A.D Khowaja’s case, Mr Siddiqi commented on how the judiciary and the police chief stood on one side and the entire political cadre of the Sindh government on the other.

When pointed out how the IG offered to voluntarily resign from the post, even though he had the courts and the public backing him, he said it could be disappointing, “but in the end the IG is also part of the same system and he drew back after fighting a good fight”.

Advocate Siddiqi and Karamat Ali are among other petitioners, including Aquila Ismail and Shahzad Roy, who approached the Sindh High Court in December last year when IG Khowaja was sent on ‘leave’.

The same month, the SHC issued a stay order halting the IG’s removal. When the IG was transferred in April this year, Mr Siddiqi sent a legal notice to the Sindh government for its alleged contempt of court.

Mr Siddiqi said they had approa­ched the court to “fix the prevailing police system and to make it independent and accountable”.

About the ongoing situation, he said: “The language used by certain officials while addressing the IG is appalling to say the least. It also reveals how police officers are treated as private servants rather than public servants.”

Baldia case

Another example of PIL reaching a conclusive agreement, Mr Siddiqi said, was the Baldia Town factory fire case. The heirs of the victims were quite scared of approaching the court to seek compensation or even say what had happened out of fear of the factory owners, he said.

But, he added, when the “people colle­c­t­ively got together to approach the bench and demand their rights, the enormity of the situation and their condition was understood by everyone. They end­ed up receiving not only the immediate compensation but also the pension due to them.”

He also discussed the death toll from the 2015 heatwave. Through a joint plea filed in the high court, the petitioners, including advocate Siddiqi, found out that low-income neighbourhoods of Karachi faced far more power outages than high-income areas.

He said K-Electric was using ‘collective punishment’ as a way to get back to those who did not pay their electricity bills, adding that it was also revealed that the people of Karachi were overcharged by Rs62 billion.

Advocate Siddiqi also recounted the not-so-successful 2013 Shahzeb Khan murder case in which the family eventually pardoned the killers who were awarded the death penalty.

“There are benefits of public litigation which people don’t see. For many, the long process of reaching a conclusion is a deterrent. But in public interest litigation cases, a group can approach the high court directly. It is far [more] effective than going through the long-drawn process of approaching the magistrate or a sessions court and then the superior courts,” he said.

Concluding the debate, Mr Sid­diqi said that it had become a trend to approach courts in order to get a quick remedy for a situation.

When asked whether this could be considered a long-term solution to resolve many issues in the city, he said: “Courts work as chemotherapy; it is an immediate and short-term solution to save a situation. But beyond that we do need the government to resolve issues.”

In his brief address, Karamat Ali highlighted the importance of PIL and said it was the most effective way of seeking justice. He recalled that in the past prominent lawyers, including Iqbal Haider, used to fight PIL cases free of cost.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2017

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