KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday put the federal and provincial authorities on notice on a petition challenging the recently promulgated Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) Ordinance.

A two-judge bench led by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar issued notices to the federal ministry of law and justice secretary, Sindh chief secretary, attorney general Pakistan and Sindh advocate general for Oct 23.

Advocate Shahab Usto petitioned the SHC and submitted that object of the impugned ordinance, promulgated by the federal government, was reportedly to establish an authority for offshore islands of Sindh and Balochistan and particularly Bundal and Buddo islands along the Karachi coast.

The petitioner contended that the impugned ordinance had sabotaged the constitutional scheme by which the territorial integrity of the provinces had been guaranteed under articles 1, 152, 172, 173 and 239 of the Constitution.

Petitioner says ordinance has sabotaged the constitutional scheme

He also argued that it amounted to usurping the territories of Sindh and maintained that Article 172 (2) clearly barred the jurisdiction of the federal government within 12 nautical miles of the territorial waters of Pakistan.

The petitioner submitted that Bundal and Buddo islands were referred to in the first schedule of the impugned ordinance, but those areas were situated within less than three nautical miles off the Karachi coast and hence had always been part of Sindh and historically treated as “extensions” of the city.

He also contended that the federal government through a presidential ordinance had permanently taken over both provincial islands and altered the boundaries of Sindh in wilful violation of Article 239(4) of the Constitution that required not only the assent of two-thirds majority in both houses of the parliament, but also an approval of the Sindh Assembly by votes not less than two-thirds of its total strength.

The petitioner asserted that the Sindh government had shown no objection to the unconstitutional enforcement of the impugned ordinance and instead informed the federal government through a letter dated July 6 in pursuance of the request made by the federation that “The provincial cabinet has decided to make the said islands available to the federal government, as per law, for the purpose mentioned in the letter under reply in public interest, on such term and conditions as agreed upon”.

He said that although it appeared that the ordinance had been enforced with the consent of the Sindh government, even then it was not sustainable on the touchstone of constitutional provisions.

He contended that the ordinance proclaimed that the authority would have jurisdiction not only on those two islands, but the entire range of maritime area covering both internal and territorial waters in complete and abject violation of Article 172 (2), depriving the province of its lawful and constitutional jurisdiction.

Advocate Usto argued that the authority had been established without ascertaining the environmental impact of the planned development of two islands on the marine life and ecology of the coastal belt of Karachi that had already seen enormous degradation over the years of neglect and violation of environmental laws.

He also raised a question that after the promulgation of the impugned ordinance, if the permanent residents of those islands had a right to knock the door of the SHC and if not, then where would they refer their matters since the Islamabad High Court’s jurisdiction was also limited only to the federal capital territory as provided under Article 175 (1).

The petitioner pleaded to declare the impugned ordinance as being illegal, unconstitutional and of no legal effect and to restrain the federal government from taking over the two islands.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2020