HYDERABAD: Courtroom II of the Sindh High Court's (SHC) Hyderabad Circuit Bench was in the limelight during the last quarter of 2016. A two-judge division bench heard a gamut of public interest litigation, passed orders and, to some extent, oversaw their implementation.
The scope of these judicial orders covered health, education, water supply, universities, town planning, environment, highways and transport and communication systems, among others. The grilling of bureaucrats and short deadlines for implementation of the orders as well as elaborate arguments were featured during various case hearings.
Starting a government ambulance service in Sindh similar to Rescue 1122 in Punjab, launching a crackdown against quacks and reforming and improving a range of facilities in government hospitals as well as schools and universities were some of the orders given by the bench. The court also ordered measures for urban town planning, road safety, timely completion of the M9 Motorway, stopping pollution in Hyderabad's waterways and use of information technology in the government and education sectors.
Orders for removal of encroachments from many districts, CNG cylinders from public transport vehicles, mobile towers from densely populated areas and illegal encroachments of working women hostels were also passed.
"Many years after Justice Amir Hani Muslim [who is now an apex court judge], we had a bench which animated the court hearings, cross-questioned arrogant officials and not only gave orders but followed [through on] them, too," praised a senior lawyer.
He felt impressed by what he described as 'judicial follow-up' of the orders by either assigning the court's registrars to monitor implementation or asking for submission of compliance reports. The bench comprised Justice Salahuddin Panhwar and Justice Muhammad Iqbal Mahar. The latter was replaced in December by Justice Khadim Hussain Tunio.
A host of predicaments prevailing in all the government hospitals surfaced in the court while hearing a petition filed by a women for the recovery of her newborn who was stolen from Liaquat University Hospital in Hyderabad.
As the case proceeded, the court ordered a ban on the use of mobile phones by staff, installation of biometric attendance machines and implementation of immediate steps to address the shortage of medical machines and staff.
The bench also summoned the law and health secretaries to justify administrative control of health universities' teaching hospitals being held by the health secretary instead of the universities' respective vice-chancellors, which creates an overlap in authority.
It ordered the expansion of Liaquat Medical University's hospitals in Hyderabad and Jamshoro from existing 1,400 beds to 4,000 beds in another petition. The order to the Sindh government to launch an emergency ambulance service within three months was given in the same case.
The court prodded health authorities to take action against quacks, making them submit monthly follow-up reports. In a case filed by a resident of Mirpurkhas, the SHC banned construction of high-rises in that district until the authorities prepared and got approved a master plan. Other districts of Sindh were also ordered to prepare their master plans. In another robust decision, the court ordered CNG stations to stop selling CNG to public transport vehicles, observing that the transport authorities had failed to take meaningful action. The bench in question started its 10-week roster session on October 17. The sitting culminated after a one-week extension on December 30, the day when the proceedings continued till 7pm to ensure recovery of a missing person from the police. In its last few hours of the final day at the Hyderabad circuit on Friday, the bench kept the district police and its chief, SSP Irfan Baloch, on pins and needles. It heard a case concerning the murder of a university student in an allegedly fake encounter on December 23 and the subsequent enforced disappearance of his friend, who was an eyewitness to the murder.
Repeated denial of knowledge of the whereabouts of the missing man, Waheed Qambrani, by police officials failed to budge the bench and ended with his dramatic recovery. He was produced in the court after 6pm where the judges heard him speak about the murder of his friend and his habeas corpus detention from December 25.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2017.
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