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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday set aside the federal government’s decision to close shops, markets and businesses on Saturdays and Sundays, saying it reflected no justifiable rationale.

The SC order required the provincial governments to open all shopping malls without any hindrance or obstruction but ensure strict adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs). “The businessmen shall be allowed to do their business on all days, which is permissible under the law, subject to enforcement of SOPs,” the Supreme Court ruled after a suo motu hearing on government’s efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country.

Looking at the past history of Pakistan where business activities of private entrepreneurs were interfered with by the governments, the apex court cautioned, such entrepreneurs lost faith in the system and packed up to move to some other destinations in the world, where they considered their investment to be more safe and profitable.

“If the businesses and industries remain closed for a long time, their revival becomes doubtful, more and more, and in case they are not revived, millions of workers will be on streets and the government may face a human disaster and calamity of such a magnitude [that] to overcome [it] may become next to impossible,” feared Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed.

A five-judge SC bench headed by the chief justice expressed the hope that the government would not divert all resources to prevention of the coronavirus pandemic alone. The country should not be made dysfunctional because of this disease, for its consequences will be highly detrimental to the people of Pakistan, cautioned the chief justice.

CJP deplores that ‘coronavirus, which apparently is not a pandemic in Pakistan, is swallowing so huge money’

The federal and provincial governments will address the court on this point again on Tuesday.

“We note that thousands of people die on account of brain haemorrhage, cardiac failure, hepatitis, dengue, kidney failure, liver failure, pulmonary and other related ailments and all these deaths go in hundreds of thousands every year. Even Health Secretary Dr Tanveer Ahmed Qureshi conceded that over the years in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) almost one thousand people die only on account of pollen allergy,” the chief justice said.

Acting Advocate General for Punjab Shan Gul told the apex court that the provincial government had approached the National Health Services (NHS) to obtain an approval for opening shopping malls which had been done in the ICT, and both Punjab and the ICT were likely to get permission for opening shopping malls on Monday.

“If such can be done by the biggest province of Pakistan i.e. Punjab, why not by Sindh also and apparently, we find no valid reason or justification for the same,” the chief justice said. “In the circumstances, we direct Sindh to apply to the NHS on Monday for seeking approval for opening shopping malls in Sindh,” the order said, adding: “We expect that after such application, the NHS shall give their decision on Monday.”

Advocate General for Sindh Salman Talibuddin said all shops and markets had been allowed to open in the entire province, except shopping malls. And while relying on the minutes of a May 7 meeting, he contended that the review of decision about shopping malls would be made before May 31.

“People of my country are poor and they need to earn bread and butter on a daily basis,” the chief justice observed, adding that they could not be put hostage by putting behind lockdowns. “They are not the slaves of the governments rather their rights are governed through the Constitution, he observed.

About the closure of shops, markets and businesses on Saturdays and Sundays, the apex court said it did not find any reasonable classification on the basis of which these two days were excluded from doing business, for that, all days of the week were the same.

“It is for the convenience of the human beings that the days have been given names, otherwise there is no distinction between these days of the week from Saturday and Sunday,” the chief justice observed. “We, therefore, find that this restriction put in the minutes of May 7 meeting of the National Coordination Committee was contrary to Articles 4, 18 and 25 of the Constitution and thus declared to be illegal and accordingly set aside.”

The Supreme Court expressed dissatisfaction over the National Disaster Management Authority’s report and said it would like to hear Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan as well as security officials of the NDMA.

“We find no reason why so much money is being spent on this coronavirus [Covid-19], for that, Pakistan is not the country which is seriously affected by it,” the chief justice observed. There are other serious ailments prevailing in the country, from which people are dying daily and those ailments are not being catered and coronavirus, which apparently is not a pandemic in Pakistan, is swallowing so huge money, he regretted.

Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed observed that the money was not being spent wisely by the NDMA.

The chief justice regretted that the huge money being spent on coronavirus patients did not commensurate with the actual facilities being provided to the patients.

In a report, a NDMA representative stated that Prime Minister Imran Khan had directed that all funding requirements of the NDMA and other relevant agencies for operations to contain Covid-19 be met. So far the government has provided Rs25.3 billion directly to the NDMA for procurement of related items and other operations against the pandemic.

The report pointed out that the NDMA had already requested the Auditor General of Pakistan to carry out an audit of the procurement and other expenditures made by the authority out of these funds on a regular/bimonthly basis.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2020



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