ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has sought complete information from the federal and provincial governments about measures taken by them to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
The information sought by the apex court includes details about the training imparted, protective dresses and kits given to doctors and paramedical staff and steps taken to ensure availability of ventilators, medicines and hospital beds to cope with Covid-19.
Headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, the directives were issued by a five-judge Supreme Court bench on Wednesday after it took up a challenge to exercise of suo motu powers by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) through its March 20 order of granting bail to under-trial prisoners (UTPs).
The hearing will resume on April 6, but till then the earlier directive of March 30 will apply. The order had restrained the federal and provincial governments from releasing under-trial prisoners following the outbreak of Covid-19.
The reports sought by the Supreme Court should throw light on the state of preparedness in hospitals managed by the federal government, the four provincial governments and that of Gilgit-Baltistan, as well as the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration, to treat Covid-19 patients.
Centre, provinces told to share details about the training imparted and protective dresses, kits given to paramedics
The court also decided to hear and determine the legality of orders issued by the IHC as well as the March 26 Sindh High Court (SHC) order of releasing UTPs, observing that prima facie these orders do not reflect the application of any law.
Syed Qalbe Hassan, who heads the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), pointed out that 500 prisoners were entering jails per day, but the prison authorities had made no arrangements for their screening.
The apex court ordered all the Inspectors General of Prisons to ensure that no prisoner entered any jail without screening for coronavirus.
In case a prison is found to have virus-infected prisoners, the jail chief will ensure that the affected inmates are quarantined.
When the SCBA president invited the court’s attention towards 108 vacancies for doctors in different prisons, the bench ordered the advocate generals of the provinces to request their governments to fill these vacancies without delay.
Justice Sajjad Ali Shah regretted that police were detaining virus-infected people, but releasing those convicted of crimes.
“The answer is not to put these prisoners in the streets, but to make arrangements in jails to protect them from the spread of disease because they are dangerous criminals who put the lives of other people at risk,” the chief justice observed.
“The hunger to commit corruption on part of criminals is bigger than the hunger for food,” observed Justice Gulzar Ahmed.
The Supreme Court was also perturbed over a report that 519 UTPs were released on the basis of a press release issued on behalf of the Sindh High Court’s chief justice.
The Advocate General of Islamabad Capital Territory told the court that 224 prisoners had been released after the IHC order, but the apex court questioned what legal assistance he had rendered on the basis of which the high court issued orders to release UTPs.
The Advocate General of Punjab, Shan Gul, cited a number of LHC judgements to emphasise that inherent powers of a high court to exercise authority under Section 561-A stood eclipsed.
The court ordered all the governments to furnish latest reports about the capacity in jails, the number of UTPs, convicted as well as vulnerable prisoners and details about those who were released on bail.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2020