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SC likely to decide PMDC body fate today

Updated January 12, 2018

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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court may decide on Friday (today) the fate of the 35-member council of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council headed by Dr Shabbir Lehri.

“If the PMDC is illegal then it cannot be allowed to continue,” observed Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar while heading a three-judge bench that had taken up an appeal of the PMDC against the Dec 7, 2017 Lahore High Court decision of dissolving the council and striking down its admission regulations 2016.

The apex court asked the counsel representing different petitioners as well as Attorney General (AG) Ashtar Ausaf on Thursday to suggest an alternative solution to run the PMDC council till its new elections.

Senior counsel Sardar Latif Khosa, representing former PMDC president Dr Masood Hameed Khan, suggested that an ad hoc committee be appointed under one of the council’s members and former apex court judge Shakirullah Jan to elect the new PMDC council.

AG Ausaf informed the bench that the federal cabinet was considering raising the PMDC issue at a joint sitting of parliament for introduction of a new law after he had made a presentation before the cabinet on Wednesday.

At this, the chief justice asked the AG whether action taken under a lapsed temporary law was protected and office-bearers of the PMDC council would survive.

The AG said that an ordinance given by the Constitution itself had the same validity and force, citing the example of the Election Commission of Pakistan which passed orders in relation to particular elections.

The chief justice regretted that the government awoke when the PMDC ordinance lapsed and questions were raised about the fate of the PMDC president. The issue had remained pending before the Lahore High Court for a few months, but the legislature did not move to make a law, he said.

The chief justice made it clear that the Supreme Court would never compromise on the question of strengthening democracy and the supremacy of parliament.

Barrister Ali Zafar, the counsel for the Pakistan Association of Private Medical and Dental Institutions (PAMI), argued that the PMDC council was currently functioning unlawfully because it had been created under the PMDC (Amendment) Ordinance 2015 which had lapsed on April 25, 2016 and, therefore, all acts done and regulations passed by it were also unlawful.

The counsel said that under the PMDC Ordinance 1962, a council was first created which consisted of eminent people from all walks of life, including one member each from medical and dental colleges and universities. But this provision led to a regulatory capture because when the number of private colleges increased their members became a majority in the council.

Later, parliament passed an amendment act in 2012 under which the private medical colleges of each province were to select only one member amongst themselves. But even this was not acceptable to the government which then, through an ordinance in 2015, dissolved this council and constituted a new one of its own liking without any representation from private medical and dental colleges, the counsel said.

The 2015 ordinance was also passed without the approval of the cabinet or the Council of Common Interest (CCI) and hence regulations and policies framed by the PMDC were also illegal on this score, he said, adding that after the lapse of this ordinance, the Senate had refused to make it a law and sent it to the CCI.

Barrister Zafar stressed the need for immediate elections for the new council under the 2012 act. He said that at present there were top five countries in the world that were competing for a place in the global strategy, the first being India with 450 medical colleges, followed by Brazil with 259, China with 187, the United States with 186 and Pakistan with 156 colleges.

Presently, he said, Pakistan alone required 500,000 doctors, but had only 168,491 registered doctors of these only 40,167 were specialists and even out of these, 25,000 were working abroad. Similarly, he added, Pakistan needed 500,000 hospital beds, but had only 100,000 beds, 80 per cent of which was being provided by the private medical and dental colleges.

“Thus Pakistan would require more than 200 institutions, if we have to compete in this global strategy. This is the reason why it is important that while exercising the suo motu jurisdiction, the Supreme Court should ensure that the standards of private medical and dental colleges are raised and at the same time they should be encouraged and supported in their endeavours,” Barrister Zafar said.

When the attorney general tried to cite an Indian judgement from Orissa, the chief justice asked him not to quote the same since it was a bad verdict and said the AG should be reluctant to rely on Indian judgements when lot of developments had been made in Pakistan jurisprudence.

The chief justice even went on to say that he was expressing dismay that the office of AG was still in romance with judgements from the Indian jurisdiction when the Pakistan jurisprudence had developed. He said that even in the morning in some other cases, two verdicts were cited from the Indian jurisdiction, adding that Indian judgements were only persuasive.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2018