The Supreme Court has observed that the fundamental rights to life as given in Article 9 and a life of dignity as envisioned under Article 14 of the Constitution are not available to a substantial number of citizens throughout the country.
At the last hearing, the court had constituted four committees, comprising the federal and provincial governments’ law officers, to check the price and availability of wheat flour on-spot throughout the country.
“The committees have made visits to various sites. From their reports, it does appear that the fundamental rights to life as given in Article 9 and a life of dignity as envisioned under Article 14 of the Constitution may not be available presently to a substantial number of citizens,” a two-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Jawwad S Khawaja, observed on Tuesday.
The bench observed that it is necessary that a more comprehensive survey is conducted by qualified professionals or institutions to evaluate the price and availability of flour throughout the country.
“We will also consider the possibility of seeking a study by professionally or scientifically sound bodies or individuals to assist us in understanding if and to what extent, there may be deficiency in assuring the fundamental rights of the citizens,” the court order says.
The court said that it would be appropriate if it could have empirical data so that further proceedings and orders are grounded in facts which have been validated.
The bench also rejected the federal government’s data as to how a family comprising two adults and two minors would be able to survive with dignity as per Article 14 of the Constitution with the minimum wage of an unskilled worker.
During the hearing, Food Security Commissioner Dr Shakeel Ahmed Khan submitted the data gathered by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics regarding the matter.
According to the data, the price of essential food items per month has been given as Rs5,530, Rs6,200 and Rs14, 858.
The bench said the data was outdated and the figures do not consider the needs of such family in respect of electricity, water, gas, transport, school fees, clothing, shelter and a number of other items. It said that the federal and provincial governments are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the fundamental rights of the citizens of the state are met.
“Even amongst the principles of policy, it has been stipulated in Article 38(a) of the Constitution that the state shall secure the well-being of the people. We are listing this petition for hearing during the next week on which date the governments shall be heard and their actions to alleviate the abject condition of the citizens will be taken into account,” the court said in its order.
During the hearing, Additional Attorney General Atiq Shah submitted that flour is being smuggled from Balochistan into Afghanistan. Justice Jawwad S Khawaja said that if so, this is a failure on the part of the executive. The hearing of the case is adjourned until May 2.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2014.
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