ISLAMABAD: An apex court bench, hearing a suo motu case about coronavirus, has said the provinces are bound to follow directives of federal government in view of Article 149 (1) & (4) of Constitution –an observation that once again shows the superior judiciary’s predilection for a powerful federation.
A five-judge larger bench of the Supreme Court made this observation on Tuesday after Sindh advocate general claimed that the PTI led federal government is violating the policy approved by the National Coordination Committee (NCC) on coronavirus.
The NCC chaired by the prime minister includes all provincial chief ministers. The committee was formed to adopt unanimous policy to fight the pandemic.
According to Article 149 (1), the executive authority of every province shall be so exercised as not to impede or prejudice the exercise of the authority of the federation, and the executive authority of the federation shall extend to the giving of such directions to a province as may appear to the federal government to be necessary for that purpose.
Top court orders reopening of shopping malls
“The executive authority of the Federation shall also extend to the giving of directions to a Province as to the manner in which the executive authority thereof is to be exercised for the purpose of preventing any grave menace to the peace or tranquility or economic life of Pakistan or any part thereof," it says.
According to some legal experts, the observation shows that the apex court wants a strong federation.
Interesting, Minister for Law Dr Farogh Naseem a few months back hinted at invoking the same constitutional provision in Karachi, a statement that had whipped a political storm particularly in Sindh province.
‘SC not responsible for violation of Covid-19 SOPs’
Earlier, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Javed Khan told the Supreme Court that people are not taking the Covid-19 threat seriously after the apex court’s remarks.
The bench while lifting restriction on business activities on Monday asked the federal and provincial governments not to use all their resources in fighting the Covid-19, which, the bench observed, is not a pandemic in Pakistan.
Referring to these remarks, the AGP said the SC’s observations are making it difficult for the administration to take measures to curb the spread of the deadly pathogen. Sindh advocate general endorsed the opinion saying the lockdown is no more effective as shops have been allowed to open.
However, Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, who heads the bench, said it is not owing to the SC’s remarks but because of the police that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are being violated.
He clarified that the Supreme Court did not make any remarks against the Sindh government. “Even the provincial government is allowing government offices to reopen,” he stated.
The chief justice said the SC is not concerned about the state’s expenses to overcome this pandemic but rather the quality of the services being provided to Covid-19 patients.
He referred to examples of SC employees who were initially tested positive in government labs but their tests from private labs came out negative. However, the bench later endorsed the AGP’s concern about its ‘pandemic’ observation and decided it to incorporate in its Tuesday order.
CJP again expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s arrangements in quarantine centres.
He said the people are not getting potable water in quarantine centers, whereas cleanliness is also not being ensured. He said people have complained that they have to give bribes to authorities in order to leave quarantine centres even after they are tested negative for the virus.
The Supreme Court, however, noted that the coronavirus is affecting a lot of people.
Justice Gulzar said the decision to reopen shopping malls over the weekend is till Eidul Fitr and the decision will be reviewed after Eid. In his remarks, Justice Sardar Tariq clarified that Supreme Court’s order to reopen malls was for the Sindh government.
“Malls in the federal capital and Punjab were already being reopened,” Justice Tariq said, adding that since malls were reopening in most provinces it was only fair that they reopened across Sindh too.
He said malls are far safer than markets since SOPs could still be followed in closed and limited spaces. “The court shouldn’t be blamed for the reopening of malls,” he added.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chairman also appeared before the bench and briefed the court about the government’s response to the locust attack.
The bench adjourned hearing of the suo motu case till June 8.