KARACHI: The Sindh High Court has ruled that every citizen has the right to a clean environment with natural habitat and wildlife under Article 9 of the Constitution. In view of this ruling, the SHC has ordered the federal and provincial governments to take relevant steps to curb the smuggling of rare wildlife species.
A division bench, comprising justices Sajjad Ali Shah and Hasan Feroze, also ordered the federal and provincial governments to ensure the enforcement of laws regarding wildlife species, such as turtles and tortoise, and investigate the incidents of their smuggling.
The landmark ruling came on a joint petition filed by the World Wide Fund for Nature - Pakistan, the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society and others.
The petitioners, who had gone to court after alleged turtle traffickers were arrested in Karachi, had sought a thorough investigation into the smuggling of endangered species, such as black-spotted turtles and tortoises, and the prosecution of smugglers under anti-smuggling and Customs laws.
The judges declared that the federal and provincial governments had failed in their constitutional duty under Article 9 of the Constitution by not being able to prevent incidents relating to the illegal export of species.
The bench decreed that the failure of the authorities to take legal action, including civil and criminal proceedings, against the alleged traffickers under the Customs Act, 1969, for illegally smuggling the rare turtles, was a violation of the Customs Act and their obligations under Article 9 of the Constitution. The court directed the authorities to take legal action against the alleged smugglers.
The judges also directed the federal and provincial governments to investigate the incidents, as specified in the petition, and assign responsibility, criminal and civil liability of the persons, including the government officials, departments and private individuals, for the ongoing illegal export of the wildlife species. After assigning such responsibility, criminal and civil proceedings may also be initiated against such persons, the judges ordered.
The judges directed the federal and provincial governments to publish a detailed programme of measures to be taken to prevent incidents of illegal export and smuggling of native wildlife species and other incidents leading to the extinction of wildlife, but not limited to turtles and tortoises only. The bench also directed both the governments to take measures to develop and enforce such procedures and mechanisms to comply with the safety and protection of the wildlife species.
Federal govt's assurance
During Wednesday's proceedings, the standing counsel, Liaquat Hussain Sheikh, said that the federal government has no objection, in case the petition was allowed by the court as prayed, except clause (i). Through clause (i), the petitioners had sought a permanent stay against the trial initiated by the judicial magistrate against the alleged turtle smuggler.
Sheikh assured, however, that the federal government will take all possible measures to curb the smuggling of tortoise and fresh water turtles.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2015.
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