The Sindh High Court issued on Tuesday contempt of court notices to the health secretary, cabinet division secretary and Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) chairperson over their failure to fix the price of Covid-19 vaccines.
The court issued the notices in a plea pertaining to the price of Covid-19 vaccines, filed by the federal government, after the assistant attorney general (AAG) informed the court that the price for the vaccines were to be decided in an upcoming cabinet meeting.
Irked over the delay, the court remarked, "You have made a joke out of the court order [on the matter]. What have you been doing for the last 10 days? Why has the price for the vaccines not fixed yet?"
The AAG attributed the delay to the worsening situation of the pandemic in Islamabad, which added to the court's ire.
"Nothing else has stopped in Islamabad, but you have not fixed the vaccines' price," the court remarked.
The AAG maintained that setting the price was a policy matter and the relevant authorities need more time to agree on a price.
"Is it rocket science? You are unable to set a price?" the court further rebuked the AAG.
At that, the AAG explained that the authorities need to first decide whether they would be fixing a permanent price or set a price for the next six months.
This led to the court making the observation that the issue pertained to exemptions from Statutory Regulatory Orders on the import of the vaccines, which had been challenged by a pharmaceutical company.
"DRAP's counsel must satisfy the court on the matter," the court remarked, adding that the price fixed for the vaccines would not be applicable to the pharmaceutical company in question for the time being.
When the counsel for the DRAP argued that it was a matter of public interest and both the pleas- those of the federal government and the pharmaceutical company- should be heard together.
"Had it been a matter of public interest, the government's attitude would have been different. The government seems non-serious," the court stated.
The court then directed granted the DRAP more time to seeks guidelines from the relevant authorities on the fixing of the price and adjourned the hearing until May 20, after issuing contempt of court notices to the health secretary, cabinet division secretary and the DRAP chairperson.
"They must explain why the court order has not been complied with," the court stated.
Missing persons case
Meanwhile, a two-member bench comprising Justice KK Agha and Justice Abdul Mobeen Lakho gave the last warning to the federal interior secretary to appear before the case in a missing persons case. The court also summoned the foreign affairs secretary and human rights secretary in the case.
Irked by the absence of the interior secretary, the court observed that the secretary had been summoned multiple times in the case over the violation of court orders.
When the federal interior deputy secretary failed give an explanation for the interior secretary's absence, the court remarked, "The interior secretary's attitude tantamount to committing contempt of court. Despite court orders, the list of persons kept in detention centres has not been provided and hence, it could not be ascertained whether persons who went missing in Karachi were in detention centres or not. Is the Ministry of Interior so helpless that it is unable to obtain information about detention centres?"
The court further warned that if the interior secretary failed to appear before the court at the next hearing on May 27 and give an explanation as to why the list had not been produced, he would be responsible for the consequences.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2021.
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