Travelling in Wonderland

Published January 28, 2022
The writer is a lawyer.
The writer is a lawyer.

WHEN Justice Gulzar became chief justice of Pakistan (CJP), certain people were worried. He had begun to take notice of the illegal method by which cantonment land no longer required for military use was divided into plots and sold to civilians instead of being returned to the government. He had taken notice of a cinema on military land on Karachi’s Rashid Minhas Road. He had asked for comprehensive reports on such illegalities.

On Nov 29, 2019, just before taking over as CJP, Justice Gulzar attended the third women judges conference on Justice Ayesha Malik’s invitation. He admitted that upon being told the conference was on “women judges developing the gender perspective”, he got “really confused”. After sharing a laugh with the audience, he said, “I became also curious. And so curious like Alice in Wonderland.”

He stated he made an effort to “give some thought and then prepare a written note, not taking any risk of saying anything beyond that”. He quipped: “These women are something upon something. They want me from the man, something to do.” Of the lawyers watching, few would have understood where the trip to Wonderland would take them, and the risks he was apparently prepared to take with the law when he seemed really confused.

The neglected city of Karachi had a son as a chief justice. It was thought that particular focus would be upon the Article 140-A local government petitions pending before the court which would hammer home the constitutional duty of provincial governments to pass down finance commission awards to local councils and devolve budgets and authority.

Few would have known where the trip to the land of judicial wonders would take them.

That issue was never decided and actual representative and empowered local government still evades Sindh including Karachi. Our chief justices of late have had hobby careers, such as Saqib Nisar and his reinvention as a dam engineer and professional prison food taster. Justice Gulzar seemed to prefer building control in Karachi.

Instead of mandating a parallel tenfold increase in provincial finance awards in tandem with national finance awards post devolution, instead of declaring the effects of the constitutional mandate which orders power to flow down to the people, he thought it was best for it to swim up, and into himself, for good measure.

In August 2020, when presiding over a suo motu bench concerned with billboards that fell during heavy rains in Karachi, Justice Gulzar asked whet­h­­er the huge billboard was still there on the cinema located on Rashid Minhas Road. He reminded everyone that, let alone the billboard the cinema itself was illegal.

In Karachi, Justice Gulzar has wanted the bungalows of his childhood back and the ugly towers he could see on his way home from the airport, which provided housing to the middle class, to explain themselves, never mind the housing shortage. Even for parks, he has had exacting standards and saw Karachi’s Aladdin water park as too privatised and commercial, despite the lease allowing such use. He ordered it to be razed and refused the request for structures and facilities to be spared for the government to administer. Where there were previously children playing on water slides, there are now heroin addicts pulling out scrap steel to trade for their next fix.

When Nasla Tower’s demolition and the clearing of Gujjar nullah of its poor leaseholders was ordered, this writer reminded readers of that first military land question asked by him and the report on cantonment and military land misuse which had been lost. Soon thereafter, Justice Gulzar ordered all commercial activity to stop on all land held by the military. He was told it had been stopped. Resultantly, what was previously supposed to be ‘Falcon Mall’ on a now disused air base became ‘Air War College Institute’. Thereafter we focused again on Nasla’s demolition. Never mind the CJP had asked for land no longer in active military use to be returned to the civilians.

In May 2020, he subjected Sindh’s Covid policy to conformity with the centre’s floundering measures, tasking the province to ask Islamabad for permission to open shopping malls ahead of Eid. He commented on how some people needed to shop for Eid even if those present in court did not, and perceived that closing malls on weekends was discriminatory as all days were equal. He noted in his order that Covid-19 was “apparently not a pandemic” in Pakistan.

After Eid when infections skyrocketed, the court ordered the centre to take the pandemic seriously, and withdrew its weekend shop opening order, because “Eid was now over”.

On May 19, 2020; amid the daily Covid-related suo motu hearings, Justice Gulzar was reported by a TV channel’s Twitter handle to have stated: “I have been a legal adviser to many companies; in the end they were all wound up due to bad policies.” Were we being told something?

In a speech during the Supreme Council Bar Council poll campaign, senior lawyer Hamid Khan identified what he called the ‘Gulzar doctrine’: if a case is likely to adversely affect the establishment’s interests, it isn’t listed. Waqar Seth died before he could get a hearing on his petitioning for his seniority right to be considered for Supreme Court elevation. Shaukat Siddiqui retired before his reinstatement could be decided. Internment centres in KP continue to hold people illegally, the declaration of their illegality by Justice Seth having been suspended by the Supreme Court. Musharraf’s conviction by a special court was suspended through an extraordinary exercise of jurisdiction by the Lahore High Court, an appeal against this farcical order awaits hearing at the apex court. The author of the order has since been elevated to the Supreme Court. A ‘curative review’ against the Justice Isa decision awaits attention.

Justice Gulzar hangs up his robes on Feb 1. If he retires in Karachi, then, en route from the airport, he’ll be able to see the cinema still standing on Rashid Minhas Road with its billboard. Would he perhaps desire to retire instead to one of his multiple plots which he applied for the balloting of, and was allotted in Islamabad? Plots which never existed on any original master plan, but may be considered good enough for justice and Justice Gulzar?

The writer is a lawyer.

Twitter: @jaferii

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2022

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