Detaining citizens

September 29, 2019


OVER the past couple of weeks, there have been incidents where members of the public have been detained in Punjab and Karachi for allegedly flouting some vague ‘emergency’ regulations. ‘Rules’ were apparently violated during Punjab’s dengue emergency drive, while in Karachi, urgent measures to supposedly rid the city of heaps of solid waste were impeded. Nabbing citizens for allegedly violating the rules fools no one; everyone knows the disposal of solid waste is the responsibility of the provincial authorities. In Punjab, some 100 people have been arrested; FIRs have been registered against more than 500 others. In Karachi, a man was detained for throwing trash in an open space before being released a day later. These crises had long been in the making, and citizens cannot be deemed responsible for them. It is the authorities that failed to take measures to prevent conditions from worsening.

The Punjab arrests are absurd — many people were detained or had FIRs registered against them after dengue inspection teams found mosquito larvae in their homes and workplaces. The case of Karachi, on the other hand, is one of sheer negligence. The provincial government spent billions on setting up a waste disposal authority that did nothing to prevent Pakistan’s largest city from turning into a garbage dump. If there are no designated places to throw waste, where are people suppose to dispose of it? And if the authorities must hold the public accountable, it should be for logical reasons; they should not do so to gloss over their own incompetence. What will be the legal mechanism for proceeding against those who have ‘violated’ anti-dengue rules? Cracking down on the public will only fuel resentment. Some years ago, KP decided to arrest parents who refused polio vaccination for their children. This strategy had to be revoked because it politicised the issue and further endangered polio eradication teams who were already a target of the militants. Instead of wasting their time and resources, the authorities should get on with their responsibilities.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2019