Top court tells govt to fix oxygen cylinder price

Supreme Court expresses dissatisfaction over NDMA report on quarantine centres


Our Correspondent May 05, 2021
Supreme Court. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

ISLAMABAD:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued directions to the government to fix the price of oxygen cylinders across the country as their demand was increasing following a surge in Covid-19 cases.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, while hearing the coronavirus suo motu case also expressed its dissatisfaction over a report submitted by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) on the facilities being provided at quarantine centres.

At the start of the proceedings, Additional Attorney General Sohail Mahmood told the bench that the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) and the NDMA had submitted their reports to the court.

He added that the government had issued an no-objection certificate (NOC) on April 30 for the import of unregistered medicines.
“In case of emergency, coronavirus medicines, which are not registered in the country, can also be imported.”

The chief justice asked him whether or not there was an inquiry into why the medicines were being ordered.

The DRAP CEO told the court said that a one-year exemption was granted to import such medicines but they were usually registered after they arrived in the country.

The CJ inquired as to what was the benefit of granting exemption to the medicines.

The DRAP chief replied that ventilators and other devices needed during the pandemic were now being manufactured in the country. However, he added that ISO certification had been made mandatory for them.

The judge sought information about the status of availability of medical equipment to deal with the novel coronavirus.

The DRAP chief told him that there was no shortage of coronavirus-related medicines in the country.

“Besides Actemra [injection], there are other medicines in stock,” he added.

Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel noted that there were many negative reports about Actemra.

The DRAP chief told him that these injections were administered in extremely critical condition.

“There are seven to eight Actemra injections in the country and they are enough for three weeks. But Japan has been contacted to order a new shipment,” he told the court.

“Oxygen is not an issue that falls under the domain of DRAP, it is related to the industries ministry instead.”

CJ Gulzar remarked that a large quantity of oxygen could be obtained from the Pakistan Steel Mills if its oxygen plant was reactivated.

The additional attorney general said the PSM's oxygen plant was more or less 40 years old.

“Reactivating the oxygen plant would cost Rs1 billion. We will provide a detailed report to the court on oxygen,” he added.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Advocate General Shumail Butt told the court that the price of oxygen cylinders were not fixed amid the countrywide rise in Covid-19 cases.

The court directed the industries ministry to fix the cost of an oxygen cylinder within two days and also work out a pricing procedure.

The apex court also noted that the affairs of the NDMA were “a mess”.

Justice Gulzar noted that the government had set up a factory for making N-95 masks for a private company named al-Hafeez.

He added that the machinery and duties for the factory were paid in cash.

The machinery was flown in on a chartered plane.

The top judge also asked why the Pakistani embassy in China was used for buying the equipment.

He noted that the chartered plane was also arranged through the embassy.

“Does the Pakistani ambassador in China engage in any diplomatic work or only buy things?” the CJ asked.

He further observed that the NDMA was mentioned in every purchase related to Covid-19.

The bench expressed its dissatisfaction over the report submitted by the NDMA on the facilities provided at quarantine centres.

NDMA Chairman Gen Akhtar Nawaz Satti told the court that he had been recently appointed to the post.

CJ Gulzar told him that the court was not concerned about when he was appointed.

“Have you [NDMA chief] visited the quarantine centres after your appointment? Have you seen the conditions at the quarantine centre in Haji Camp where despite spending millions of rupees there is neither drinking water available, nor have its walls been painted,” the judge remarked.

The bench issued directions to the NDMA chief to visit all the quarantine centres and submit a report to the court.

The judge also expressed his disappointment over the report submitted by the Sindh government in which the large sums of money spent on education and healthcare in the province were mentioned.

“Sindh should have turned into Paris with the money that has been spent on it,” Justice Gulzar noted.

The judge further observed that according to the Sindh government’s report, it spent millions of dollars on education during 2013 and 2017.

“All the educational institutions in the province would have turned into Harvard [university] if that were true.”

The judge further noted that schools in the province should have turned into palaces and the literacy rate should have been 100%, but all the money was spent on paying salaries.

The CJ also expressed his displeasure over the absence of tge Sindh advocate general from the court. He directed the province's top lawyer to submit a written reply over his absence within 15 days.

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