IHC issues notices in SIM blocking case

Clarifies it only stopped coercive action against telcos not complying with SIM blocking order

Fiaz Mehmood May 17, 2024


The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday issued notices on the government's miscellaneous application seeking to overturn its order preventing action against mobile phone companies that did not comply with the government's decision to block SIM cards. The court has sought a response by May 22.

Appearing before a single-member bench comprising IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq, Attorney-General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan argued that the court’s interim order regarding mobile SIMs needs to be withdrawn.

Chief Justice Farooq clarified that the reported order from the previous hearing was misunderstood. He remarked that the court did not stop the blocking of SIM cards but rather restrained coercive action against private mobile companies.
The chief justice inquired about the situation where a SIM registered to a non-taxpayer is used by their child, asking what would be done in such cases and what poor individuals, who have not registered themselves, would do.

The AGP said Section 144 provides complete answers to such questions.

Section 144 of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 pertains to the rules and regulations regarding the collection and management of taxes in Pakistan. This section is often cited in discussions about tax compliance and enforcement, particularly in cases involving non-filers and the measures taken to ensure their adherence to tax laws.

Read GSMA raises concerns over SIM blocking policy

The AGP said those with low revenue would not receive notices from the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). The court expressed concern that the FBR tends to include everyone in their loop, and individuals would have to constantly prove their case. It said there is a need for clear rules and regulations.

The AGP assured that no notices would be sent to poor individuals. He said non-filers have been receiving notices since November 2023, and those who respond or satisfy the FBR would have their SIMs restored.

The court also emphasized the need to examine the company's membership and the number of shares owned by Pakistanis. The AGP requested the dismissal of the stay order. However, the court maintained the order preventing disciplinary action against mobile companies as it issued a notice to a petitioner. It was observed that the main case is scheduled for May 27. The IHC adjourned the hearing until May 22.

Joint Working Group

Meanwhile, the government has established an eighteen-member Joint Working Group (JWG) to streamline the process of blocking the SIM cards of over 570,000 non-filers.

The FBR has officially issued a notification regarding this matter, stating that the JWG was formed following a decision made during a meeting chaired by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb on May 12.

The decision to establish the working group was reached after mutual consultation with representatives from telecom companies and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) present at the meeting chaired by the finance minister.

The notification explains that the working group will streamline the process for implementing the income tax general order issued by the FBR concerning the blocking of SIM cards of non-filers. The working group includes representatives from the FBR, PTA, and all four telecom companies.




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