Civil awards: Why our pandemic heroes were left out?

One hopes government will not overlook legal, social and humanitarian aspects while giving recognition where it is due

Anwar Mansoor Khan August 24, 2021
Anwar Mansoor Khan. PHOTO: EXPRESS


On, 14th of August 2021, Pakistan’s Independence Day, names of 126 lucky persons who would be receiving the Pakistan civil awards conferred on the citizens of Pakistan and foreign nationals were announced by the president of Pakistan. These civil awards would be given out at the investiture ceremony on the 23rd of March, 2022. I have had the occasion of reading the names of persons to receive the said Awards and was appalled by such gross illegality and lack of humanity in so conferring those awards.

Additionally, I observed that both, in the awards conferred previously as also in this year, the persons so named by the federal government and its’ ministries, have chosen to ignore the entire medical profession being front line workers putting their lives at risk for the service of Pakistan.

Two doctors, one of whom was not even at the forefront of this fight against the pandemic, was chosen for reasons beyond my comprehension. When we talk of the medical profession and the real workers in that profession, we are looking at those persons who are actually working at the forefront, being the nurses, junior doctors, senior doctors and the other hospital staff, putting themselves at risk, who have taken care of the Covid-19 patients, reducing the number of deaths, compared to other countries, making Pakistan as one of the best-managed states in relation to Covid-19. I am extremely sorry and ashamed to say that the committee responsible and looking after the Covid issue was so callous so as not to recommend the names of frontline medical workers for the civil awards. It is shameful rather derogatory for the frontline workers having not been considered as recipients of awards for public services rendered for the good of the citizens of Pakistan, where their untiring contribution to the nation remains undeniable.

Also read: President Alvi confers 184 'Pakistan Civil Awards' on Independence Day

In keeping with the traditions and policy as also the Constitution and the law, I tried to dig out as to how and under what circumstances and criteria such awards can and should be conferred on the deserving citizens of Pakistan as also foreign nationals. The criteria for grant of the civil award are contained in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan being Article 259(2) which reads:

“No title, honour or decoration shall be conferred by the Federal Government or any Provincial Government on any citizen, but the President may award decorations in recognition of gallantry, meritorious services in the armed forces, academic distinction or distinction in the field of sports or nursing as provided by Federal law.”

The provision of the Constitution refers to the Federal Law, which was promulgated in 1975, being the Decorations Act, 1975. Contrary to the provisions of the Constitution, the definition of “Academic Distinction” included in it, are subjects that cannot be said to be ‘Academic’. It is important to note, that the constitutional provisions being Article 259(2) was subsequently amended in 1981 and after the word ‘Academic Distinction’, the words “distinction in the field of sports or nursing“ were added. A conscious addition of the word ‘nursing’.

We understand that no law can be promulgated which is contrary to or in excess of the provisions contained in the Constitution. The Constitution categorically provides, that Decorations in recognition of gallantry, meritorious service in the armed forces or academic distinction or distinction in the field of sports or nursing would be provided in the federal law. The federal law defines the “Academic Distinction” to include (i) research, achievement or performance in medicine, science, engineering, technology, philosophy, history, literature, or arts and (ii) invention of national importance.

My question is whether ‘art’ can otherwise be an Academic Distinction. Further, parliament, being the framers of the federal law and the Constitution, chose to extend the parameters contained in the Constitution in Article 259(2) and add therein the words ‘distinction in the field of sports or nursing’. The federal law was not amended accordingly and does not cater for meritorious, sports and nursing acts at all. Whether it was a conscious decision or an error, one would never know.

Also read: 18 foreigners among 127 people to be conferred civil awards on March 23

However, the federal law takes into account and seems to have defined the word “Art” to include “performing arts i.e., drama, music, recitation in addition to literature and fine arts”. This addition of the word ‘art’ in the Federal Act, and its clarification is provided in the Policy Guidelines, giving the criteria and procedure to be adopted for conferring of civil and military awards by the President of Pakistan clearly is unconstitutional and illegal.

The word “Art” even if it was to be added in the definition, ought to be in conjunction with words ‘Academics and Literature’ and therefore had to be taken in that context and none other. There are also instructions known as, “Detailed Instructions for Making Recommendations of the Civil Awards due for Announcement on the Independence Day” given by the federal government which is applicable from the year 2018 onwards.

Clause (d) of these Instructions states; “Remarkable achievements in the field of arts, science, sports and nursing or for rendering dedicated services with selfless devotion in human rights and public service”, whilst Clause (f) thereof provides; “Outstanding services rendered by public servants beyond the call of duty in larger national interest such as, innovation or making a contribution in any other field of national importance and development.”

Given the framework of the law and given how the nurses and doctors private or in public service have selflessly worked beyond the call of duty in the larger interest of the people and contributing to the field of national importance and development, the question is as to how could they be ignored. Both in public hospitals, whether federal or provincial and in private hospitals these medical practitioners worked day in and day out with a view to saving human life; for the sanctity of human rights and public service dedicated for the same with selfless devotion without caring for their own lives.

Numerous doctors and nurses have given sacrifices including losing their lives in this selfless devoted public service whether he or she was a public servant or whether he or she was employed at a private hospital caring for Covid patients. Such remarkable contribution in the field of national importance and development has not gone unnoticed however remains unawarded.

Pakistan did not close down as other countries did, only because of these devoted doctors and paramedics as also a staff of such hospitals. The federation chose to dole out medals to Art Performers but forgot those who were liable to be considered and who during this period of shut down and pandemic remained active and on their toes.

Those people were awarded who did not come within the definition and the parameters contained in the detailed instructions for making recommendations of civil awards. The policy categorically uses the words, “remarkable achievements” and “for rendering dedicated services with selfless devotion in human right and public service; contribution in the field of national importance”. These were the criteria on which a Civil Award could have been given.

The medical frontline workers undeniably fulfilled all these categorical requirements and more. During the pandemic, the government was required to focus on these aspects and should have considered and taken into account the loss of life of over 200 doctors and paramedics, but it seems that the government chose to nominate persons who had contacts with ministers and the ministries have chosen to nominate persons who do not fall within the policy guideline of the government and the Constitution of Pakistan.

Article 259 of the Constitution of Pakistan is the parameter. We have forgotten the crucial word used in Article 259(2) “nursing”, which is a part of the Constitution and which has been avoided and ignored altogether in making recommendations for Pakistan Civil Awards by the government of Pakistan.

In my opinion, we need to acts both practically and by amending the law namely, the Decorations Act, 1975 bringing greater emphasis on what the Constitution says rather than defining provisions in that law going beyond the Constitutional mandate.

Awards and decorations given by the federal government reflect on the priorities of the government as to how the government perceives its citizens to act and in so doing not accepting the devoted and selfless works causes dissatisfaction and may lead to the selfless workers taking a back seat.

The doctors and the paramedics, irrespective of the lack of recognition, to date continue to render their tireless services and sacrifices as the third wave of Covid subsides. But, with great disappointment, on a perusal of the awards announced by the president on 14th of August and in the previous years, clearly show that there is no recognition of these medical soldiers whilst the criteria and principles laid down in the Constitution as also the policy have been disregarded.

It is always best with the federal government and the ministry of health, rethink this issue, collect data, and award these selfless doctors and paramedics, private hospitals/their staff as being eligible for the awards and decorations. Those doctors and paramedics who had died in their endeavour to save others lives should have timeless remembrance in the shape of such decorations.

I hope the federal government will not overlook the legal, social and humanitarian aspects whilst giving the recognition where it is due. Given these trying times all over the world, ignoring our medical heroes can certainly not be the vision of any government!

(The writer is senior advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan)



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