Top court orders reopening of shopping malls

SC allows business to work 7 days a week, says Centre, provinces shouldn’t use all resources in fighting coronavirus

Hasnaat Malik May 18, 2020
An AFP file image of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

ISLAMABAD: The top court on Monday noted the country could not be made completely dysfunctional due to contagious coronavirus disease as it ordered the federal and all provincial governments to allow reopening of shopping malls and lifting restrictions on doing businesses on Saturdays and Sundays.

The court also asked the federal and provincial governments not to use all their resources to fight coronavirus disease, which, it observed, has not become a pandemic in the country – particularly when the country is facing numerous other challenges, including other deadly diseases.

"We are not suggesting by any means that the governments should not attend to coronavirus but we expect that the governments should not put all their resources for this one disease, nor the country should be made altogether dysfunctional because of this disease.

“Consequences [of such a move] will be highly detrimental to the people of Pakistan, and the federal government and all provincial governments should address this point," said six-page written order issued by a five-judge larger bench hearing a suo motu case on coronavirus pandemic.

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The bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, noted that it found no reason why so much money is being spent on Covid-19 as Pakistan is not seriously affected by it.

It said there are other serious ailments killing thousands each day. “Covid-19 is apparently not a pandemic in Pakistan but it is swallowing a huge amount of money,” it said.

The court also referred to statements of secretary health which said almost one thousand people die only on account of pollen allergy in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) each year.

“Besides, we note that thousands of people die on account of brain hemorrhage, cardiac failure, hepatitis, dengue, kidney failure, liver failure, pulmonary and other related ailments every year.”

 Closure of markets and malls

In order to stop the novel coronavirus contagion, the provincial government of Sindh on March 17 imposed a ban on opening of restaurants, shopping malls, shops selling general merchandise, social clubs, public beaches, parks, swimming pools and teashops. The other provinces followed suit.

Later, the federal and provincial administration on May 7 relaxed the restrictions and allowed the markets to reopen from morning till 5pm on all days except Saturdays and Sundays. Shopping malls, however, remained closed.

The court, however, noted that it did not find any justifiable rationale on the basis of which shops, markets and businesses are closed on Saturday and Sunday as all days of the week are the same.

"It is for the convenience of human beings that the days have been given names, otherwise there is no distinction between others days of the week from Saturday and Sunday.

“We therefore find that this restriction put in the minutes of meeting dated 07.05.2020 is contrary to Articles 4, 18 and 25 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and thus, is declared to be illegal and accordingly set aside," said the order.

The order said the businessmen shall be allowed to do their business on all days, which is permissible under the law, subject to enforcement of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

The court also cautioned the federal and provincial governments that such restriction on doing business might make it difficult for them to attract investors.

“[In past] business activities of private entrepreneurs were interfered with by the government. [As a result of this] entrepreneurs lost faith in the system and packed up and moved to some other destinations in the world, where they considered their investment to be more safe and profitable.

“If the businesses and industries remain closed for a long time, their revival becomes doubtful, more and more, and in case they are not revived, millions of workers will be on streets and the government may be faced with a human disaster and calamity…to overcome which may become next to impossible.”

The order said the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) advocate general said all shops and markets in the ICT have been allowed to open and the shopping malls, namely, Giga Mall, Centaurs Mall and Safa Gold Mall, have also been allowed to open today (Monday).

Punjab acting advocate general said all shops and markets have been allowed to open in Punjab and with the permission of Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination (NHSRC), the shopping malls in all over Punjab would be allowed to open from Monday.

The advocate generals of Khyber Pakhtunkwa (K-P), Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) also told the court that all shops and markets in these areas had been allowed to open. They said the SOPs regarding coronavirus will be maintained and implemented.

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Sindh advocate general stated that all shops and markets have been allowed to open in whole of the province but shopping malls have not been allowed to operate.

When the bench asked why shopping malls have not been allowed to open in Sindh, he referred to minutes of May 7 meeting and contended that it will review the situation on May 31 again.

The court noted that all the shopping malls in the ICT and Punjab opened on Monday. Balochistan, the K-P, and the G-P advocate generals told the court they don’t have any shopping malls but said shops and markets have been allowed to open and they are doing business.

Punjab acting advocate general said the Punjab government has approached the Ministry of NHSRC for obtaining approval for opening of the shopping malls and both Punjab and the ICT are likely to get permission for opening of the shopping malls on Monday.

The court noted that if the biggest province of Pakistan – Punjab – can open its shopping malls why Sindh cannot take this step as well. Apparently, we find no valid reason or justification for the same.

The court directed the government of Sindh to apply to the Ministry of NHSRC on the same day (Monday), seeking approval for opening of shopping malls in the province of Sindh.

"We expect that after such application is made, the Ministry of NHSRC shall give their decision today {Monday] and if their decision is that shopping malls are allowed to open, the respective provincial government shall allow the shopping malls to be open and shall not create any hindrance or obstruction in this regard but ensure that SOPs are followed,” said the order.

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azmat | 1 month ago | Reply | Recommend Inna Lillah e wa inna ilaihe rajioon
Gull Hassan kHan | 1 month ago | Reply | Recommend But Chief Justice is not ready to open courts....why ..?
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