ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday gave a nod to turning three- and four-star hotels into ‘quarantine centres’ where the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has planned to keep coronavirus patients.
Last month the NDMA had proposed to the government that the hotels in all major cities across Pakistan be converted into quarantine centres for suspected and confirmed coronavirus cases. Later with the federal government consent, the NDMA also issued directives to the management of different hotels on March 16 and March 28, to vacate the premises for the purpose.
The NDMA order to vacate the hotels was however challenged by three-star Hotel Margalla, situated in Islamabad, through Advocate Sikandar Bashir Mohmand.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah observed that the federal government had taken several measures to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. The measures taken by the federal government and the NDMA were obviously to safeguard the public at large and their fundamental rights. The chief justice observed that since it was an extraordinary situation and it was settled law that the interest of public at large prevailed over individual rights.
Suggests to petitioner to claim any damages at later stage
The petitioner contended before the court that the NDMA was not authorised to take such a decision and the government should utilise the places it owned rather than turning private properties into quarantine centres. “Why does the government not use the prime minister’s home instead?” said the petitioner.
In response to the petitioner, Justice Minallah observed: “The government is taking measures for the protection of its people. How can the court interfere then? When it comes to protecting the people, the government can even use my home.”
The petitioner’s lawyer, however, argued that the fundamental rights could not be suspended even if a constitutional emergency had been invoked.
The lawyer said hotel staff had been sent on leave since March 28 for an indefinite period due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Justice Minallah suggested that if the petitioner believed the decision would cause damage to hotels, he could make a claim later on.
The lawyer, however, could not convince the court. Subsequently, Justice Minallah issued the written order stating: “The learned counsel, despite his able assistance, was not able to satisfy this court that the jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 ought to be exercised in the prevailing exceptional circumstances.
“It is noted that the said jurisdiction is discretionary in nature. It is in public interest not to exercise the jurisdiction, because it will inevitably amount to interference with the measures taken by the Authority and the Federal Government to meet the challenges that have arisen due to the extraordinary circumstances.
“It cannot be ruled out that interference by this Court with the decisions of the Authority and the Federal Government may risk jeopardizing the interests of public at large and their fundamental rights”
The IHC chief justice preferred to exercise judicial restraint in this matter instead of passing an adverse order against the NDMA’s initiative of turning hotels into quarantine facilities.
“This Court is, therefore, satisfied that restraint ought to be exercised. In view of the above, this Court is not inclined to exercise its jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 and, therefore, this petition is accordingly dismissed.”
The court, however, allowed the hotel to claim any damages if they wanted to be compensated but at a later stage. The court order read: “It is observed that in case the petitioner hotel suffers loss, it would not be without remedy because in such an eventuality remedies available under the law can be resorted to later.”
To contain the spread of deadly coronavirus, the NDMA had already converted many educational institutions, public halls such as Expo Center in Karachi and Lahore and Pak-China Center in Islamabad, hostels and even train coaches into makeshift quarantine centres.
Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2020