The people of Karachi might as well stay at home because 22,000 fugitives and proclaimed offenders roam its streets, noted the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
“Every day there is mayhem and killings,” noted the four-judge bench at the outset. “This is evident from the newspaper reports that have been appearing in the last two or three weeks.”
Justices Jawwad S. Khawaja, Khilji Arif Hussain, Sarmad Jalal Osmany and Amir Hani Muslim initiated the fourth round of follow-up hearings to see how far the court’s September 2011 orders were being implemented. One of Karachi’s bloodiest summers prompted the Chief Justice to take up the case. After hearing out Sindh’s bureaucrats, police, Rangers and parties, the SC had made a number of suggestions - but as Wednesday’s hearing indicated, few have been followed.
“If the situation has not changed and if the lives and property of citizens have not been protected, who should be held accountable,” the judges questioned Advocate-General Abdul Fattah Malik.
In particular, the judges grilled police chief Fayyaz Leghari over the 22,000 fugitives and proclaimed offenders. Initially, he tried to refute the reports, but later conceded that they were correct. “If 22,000 absconders and proclaimed offenders are present in Karachi, then you should have warned the citizens not to leave their homes or come out at their own risk,” remarked an angry Justice Khilji Arif Hussain.
The judges wanted to know how his force of only 169 investigation officers across Sindh could tackle 22,000 criminals. Leghari gave the explanation that he had asked for more manpower but hiring has been banned ahead of the elections. However, this ban came into effect just two weeks ago and the police were told to beef up the force as far back as September 2011. The judges were not to be fooled and quizzed the police chief when exactly he had put in a request for more men. He had no answer.
More statistics were provided by Additional IG Iqbal Mehmood: the police had indicted 630 people. Out of a force of 29,000 men, more than 8,000 were on security duty. Backup has been called in from other provinces for the 15 sensitive police stations in Karachi. He said there were 250 investigation officers as such for Karachi and not 169 for all of Sindh.
The irritated judges told the DIG that most of the murder cases were being declared A class or “untraced” by the incompetent investigation officers. “Your police do not even bother to collect bodies from the crime scene,” Justice Amir Hani Muslim said. “All the bodies are collected by the ambulance services.”
The killings have gone up from 1,301 people in 2011 to 2,300 in 2012. (A 76% increase). “How can free and fair elections be held in a place where citizens are afraid of leaving their homes,” Justice Khilji asked the bureaucrats.
Justice Khawaja made it clear to the home secretary and police chief that the judges would not back down. “This is something so alarming - that 2,300 people have been killed,” he said. “That means about 200 per month and eight to nine daily.”
The IG said he had outlined the downward trend over the months. But the judges pointed out that his report was missing statistics on kidnappings. Upon this SSP Niaz Khosa chimed in to say that only 105 cases were reported in 2012, when there had been an average of 12 every month in previous years. But Justice Hani told the SSP that the rate had multiplied as now parties were compelled to settle the matter to prevent hostages from being killed.
The case will be heard today.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2013.
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