SHC issues notices to Centre, Sindh over Keamari deaths

Plea seeks transparent investigation, action against those responsible, compensation for victims' families


​ Our Correspondent February 25, 2020
Representational image. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) issued notices on Monday to the federal and Sindh governments over the casualties caused by the mysterious disaster in Keamari last week.

A two-member bench, comprising Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Yousuf Ali Sayeed, was hearing a case filed by Advocate Abdul Jaleel Marwat, who stated that although the 'toxic gas leakage' in Keamari had claimed as many as 14 lives, no one was accepting responsibility for it.

The petitioner claimed that there had been an absence of communication between the federal ports and shipping minister, the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and the Sindh government over the issue. He sought a transparent investigation into the incident, action against the elements responsible for negligence and monetary compensation for the victims' families.

The court served notices to the KPT, Sindh Environmental Protection Agency and the Sindh and federal government, directing them to submit their answers by March 11.

At least 14 people were killed in Keamari and over 450 brought to hospitals for treatment after reportedly inhaling soybean dust from a shipment at KPT. Initial reports had suspected that the incident was a result of a deadly gas leak. The cause is yet to be confirmed.

Flour, sugar crises

Separately, the bench ordered the federal and provincial governments to submit details regarding the country's crisis of flour, sugar and other food items.

The petitioner maintained that the crisis was a result of illegal hoarding, asserting that profiteers were hoarding food items before Ramadan, causing inflation.

He added that the punishments for illegal hoarding had been defined in the Hoarding and Black Market Act, 1948, while the Karachi Essential Article (Price Control and Anti-Hoarding) Act, 1953, and Sindh Registration of Godowns Rule, 1996, had both been established but not implemented properly.

Pleading the court to enforce these laws, he asked the bench to protect the people from hoarders.

The court ordered the provincial and federal governments to submit the details, also directing the parties, including the Sindh government, agriculture secretary, supply and prices secretary and Karachi commissioner to submit their replies by March 17.

Local govt elections

The same bench ordered the Sindh government to submit its written reply by March 10 in a case pertaining to holding local government in the province.

The petitioner maintained that Article 140-A of the Constitution makes it mandatory for the provincial government to hold local bodies elections in provinces. He added that Sindh's local bodies had completed their four-year tenures in different cities and districts, including Karachi. Despite this, he stated, the provincial government and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) were not taking steps to hold fresh elections.

He claimed that the Sindh government was employing delay tactics as it planned to usurp the local government funds.

The bench ordered the government to inform the court when local government elections will be held in Sindh. The government's counsel responded that the government was planning to hold the elections in August 2020.

The bench directed him to ask the government about its final decision and submit a clear reply in the next hearing.

New districts in Karachi

Separately, the bench sought arguments from the petitioner over the maintainability of a plea challenging Sindh government's decision of making two new districts in Karachi.

The petitioner claimed that the decision of making Lyari and Gadap separate districts was based on mala-fide intent, stating that the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) wanted to set up its own mayor in the metropolis.

He maintained that the provincial government was unable to manage the six existing districts. Moreover, he said, neither had any bill been approved in the Sindh Assembly nor there was any legislation for establishing two new districts.

The plea moved the court to restrict the government from carving out further districts within the city.

"It is the job of the government to set up new districts," remarked Justice Mazhar. "Inform the court why the plea is maintainable, or if there is a violation of the law."

Extension granted

The bench also granted an extension to the Sindh government to submit a reply before the court on a plea seeking to stop advisers and special assistants to the Sindh chief minister from working.

The petitioner maintained that the provincial government was not taking the Constitution seriously, adding that the advisers and special assistants were enjoying the authorities and privileges of elected representatives.

He moved the court to cancel their appointments and strip them of these privileges. Moreover, he also asked the court to hand them death sentences.

"How can the provincial advisers and special assistants be restricted from working without hearing the argument of the Sindh government?" asked Justice Mazhar, adding that it would be against the law.

The court also expressed its annoyance at the petitioner for seeking the death penalty. "The court can only terminate officials from their designations for an illegal action but cannot sentence them to death," said Justice Mazhar.

The court observed that such requests could not be encouraged, adding that the plea would only be maintanable if the request was excluded from it.

Sindh additional advocate general Jawad Dero sought an extension to submit a reply on the government's behalf. The court accepted the request and granted an extension until March 3.

* With additional information from PPI 

Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2020.

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