SC ignores plea to get experts’ views on pandemic

Updated 20 May 2020

Email

Reports from NDMA, provinces on funds sought. — AFP/File
Reports from NDMA, provinces on funds sought. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court on Tuesday ignored the plea of Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan to seek an opinion from a team of epidemiologists for gauging real threat level and amend its last order in which the apex court held that Pakistan was not affected seriously with the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a medical emergency, therefore, an opinion of medical experts be sought in a similar fashion as the court did in the controversy regarding Zakat distribution,” the AGP argued while emphasising that none of them was qualified enough to grasp the real danger being posed by the outbreak of global magnitude.

“All the experts are cautioning that the coming month of June may witness a spike in the coronavirus cases, the outcome of which may be horrendous,” the AGP feared, but regretted that the people were not taking the pandemic seriously. Coming from the highest court of the country, observations like these carried so much weight that sometimes even the educated people got confused and didn’t believe in the executive about the level of the threat.

“This is horrendous,” the AGP reiterated, adding that markets were flooded with buyers after the May 18 order of the apex court. Advocate General for Sindh Salman Talibuddin endors­ed the attorney general’s point of view, observing that the lockdown and restrictions were no longer as effective as they had been earlier. He said even beauty parlours and barbershops were reopening.

Reports from NDMA, provinces on funds sought

However, Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, heading a five-judge bench of the SC, asserted that they (barbershops and markets) were reopening not because of the SC order, instead they were being allowed by the respective inspectors.

The CJP said the Sindh government had opened up its departments but closed the private sector.

Later, the five-judge bench in its order stated that although the AGP and AG-Sindh had requested the apex court to constitute a team of doctors to seek their opinion, the court for the time being did not find this essential as the government functionaries were alive and could do whatever they could in accordance with the law.

The SC order explained that the AGP, AG-Sindh and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had alarmed that the worst was yet to come and the government was expecting serious spike in June for which the available resources with the government were not that much to effectively cope with the Covid-19 situation.

The court asserted that it was aware of the prevalence of the pandemic that had caused casualties, and huge funds and resources would be needed for its prevention, but the country’s financial health was not such to deal with the alarming situation.

The bench noted that the government was striving its level best to do everything to mitigate the situation and appreciated NDMA Chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal for providing useful report, highlighting that the personal protective equipment was being manufactured locally for which the private sector was also being encouraged.

The court had been assured, the order said, that all the medical equipment would be manufactured in Pakistan, including testing kits and medicines.

The court also sought reports from the NDMA and the provincial governments on the distribution of funds and highlighted that the provincial governments were liable to comply with all directives of the federal government under Article 149(4) of the Constitution in grave menace to the public peace, tranquillity and economic life of the people that included the spread of coronavirus.

At the outset of the hearing, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed observed that the court was not concerned with the money being spent by the NDMA to deal with the virus, but with the quality of services being provided to the coronavirus patients in the country.

The chief justice expressed dismay over the state of affairs at different government-run quarantine centres with pathetic toilets, lack of sufficient water and where a number of patients spent time side by side without any social distancing.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2020