CJP bemoans closure of OPDs for non-corona patients

Updated April 07, 2020

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Punjab AG discloses that 50 inmates in a Lahore prison have tested positive for Covid-19. — Dawn/File
Punjab AG discloses that 50 inmates in a Lahore prison have tested positive for Covid-19. — Dawn/File

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed on Monday bemoaned the government’s decision to shut down health facilities for people suffering from ailments other than Covid-19 by closing out-patient departments (OPDs) in all hospitals across the country in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Patients suffering from other ailments have been left at the mercy of God,” the chief justice regretted. “What kind of medical emergency is this where even people suffering from diabetes or those having a heart condition can go neither to government-run hospitals nor to private clinics,” Justice Gulzar observed.

The number of deaths from diseases other than Covid-19 was rising at an alarming rate, the chief justice said.

He made these remarks during the hearing of a petition challenging the exercise of suo motu powers by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) through its March 20 order to grant bail to under-trial prisoners (UTPs) in view of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Punjab Advocate General Shan Gul dropped a bombshell before the Supreme Court when he disclosed that 50 inmates at the Lahore Camp Jail had tested positive for Covid-19.

Punjab AG discloses that 50 inmates in a Lahore prison have tested positive for Covid-19

An inmate of the same jail had tested positive earlier. That person came in contact with 494 other prisoners, who were subjected to the coronavirus test. Fifty of the tests turned out to be positive, he said, adding that now the Lahore camp jail had been declared a dedicated quarantine centre for prisoners. But most of the OPDs in Punjab were functioning now, the advocate general said.

The federal minister for human rights, Shireen Mazari, came forward to support what Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan had proposed to the apex court on the release of UTPs on bail.

“Our only concern is that fundamental rights should not get affected,” the chief justice observed.

“Everybody is waiting for handouts and distributing rations, but has no idea about any stocks or inventories at a time when local manufacturing of essential equipment should have started,” the chief justice regretted

“We have received a letter from the government asking us to close the dispensary at the Supreme Court. What is the rationale behind the idea?”

The court, however, asked the federal government to take preventive measures on the border crossing points at Taftan, Chaman and Torkham.

At the same time the chief justice asked the AGP to suggest to that the government use parliament at this crucial juncture and develop consensus on the coronavirus crisis.

“The nation should be taken into confidence during a national calamity,” the chief justice observed.

But public representatives are afraid to turn to parliament at this time when many countries in the world have not only come out with new laws and rules to cope with changed circumstances, but also had enforced the same, the chief justice observed.

The AGP however highlighted the need for striking a balance, conceding that essential services like OPDs should not be closed at all. He assured that hospitals would be opened.

The chief justice also pointed to the strange environment being created where people were trying to instill fear through doomsday-like predictions. “People will die after hearing such frightening remarks.”

Instead of looking towards other countries, local manufacture of essential items like ventilators should have started in the country “since no one will come to help us if the situation deteriorates”, Justice Gulzar said.

When the chief justice emphasized the need for local manufacturing of equipment, the AGP invited the court’s attention to the development of ventilator by NUST.

Sindh Advocate General Salman Talibuddin told the court that the Sindh High Court’s registrar had conveyed directives for the release of 519 prisoners verbally.

The chief justice observed that the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on health, Dr Zafar Mirza, was only projecting himself.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial emphasised the need for “balancing the scales”, saying one should try to imagine the reaction of victims’ families if their tormentors were released.

The court was informed that not a single accused facing allegations of corruption by NAB had been released as a consequence of the March 20 IHC judgement.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Law, Barrister Maleeka Ali Bokhari, in her synopsis suggested that the prime minister be requested to advise the President to exercise powers under Article 45 of the Constitution to suspend the sentence of convicts in a “structured manner”.

The case will be taken up again on Tuesday.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2020