Govt measures not enough to control pandemic: SC

Staff Report

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Monday criticized the government for their measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in the country and said very little was being done on ground to curb the spread of the virus, media reported.Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed questioned the state’s preparedness in dealing with the crisis while hearing the petition pertaining to the release of under-trail prisoners amidst the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
During the hearing today, the top judge questioned the government’s action plan regarding the spread of the virus and Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza’s qualification.
“What sort of an emergency has been imposed in the country where all the hospitals in the country have been closed?” Justice Gulzar remarked. “Private clinics in the country have also been closed.”
“No one knows what is happening on the ground,” he added. “Is this how we will deal with this pandemic? The Centre has nothing and they are doing nothing as well.”
To this, Attorney General Khalid Javed Khan informed the court that they have submitted a report in this regard. “The federal government is taking all the necessary steps,” he said.
However, the top judge further said, “The public has been left on their own. The provincial governments keep talking about distribution of rations and funds and the chief ministers keep issuing orders from their homes. Nobody knows about the ground realities.” To this, the attorney general requested the chief justice to take a briefing in his chamber. “What will you tell us there that we don’t already know,” Justice Gulzar remarked.
The top judge also questioned the qualification of SAPM Dr Mirza. “Zafar Mirza only comes on the television for projections. We are not coronologists. We just want to make sure the public is getting their basic rights.”
Moving towards the petition filed pertaining to the release of under-trail prisoners; CJP Gulzar said the court cannot release the under-trial prisoners. “The government needs to find a way around this. Those who have the virus will infect others as well. The government needs to impose precautionary measures in prisons,” he said.
Justice Qazi Ameen who was also part of the five-member bench said, the court was concerned about the lives of people. “If the infected person is not in the jail, others will be safe.” Justice Atta Bandial questioned that if the infected person was not in jail, then how would the others be infected. “We need to make SOPs to deal with these situations. A large number of people live in police and army barracks and SOPs are followed there,” he said.
“Homes should not be compared to jails,” the attorney general said. “I have made my suggestions regarding the prisoner release.”
“What is the logic behind releasing prisoners doing time for serious crimes?” Justice Bandial remarked. “We are aware the high court does not have the right to act suo motu action.” CJP Gulzar then asked the attorney general if he was sure the government would listen to his recommendations. “Can the responsible courts not grant bails? Islamabad High Court released NAB prisoners.”
The court also ordered for better facilities to be set up at Taftan border to screen patients and to keep them in isolation. “Proper quarantine centres and isolation wards should be set up at Taftan, Torkhan and Chaman borders. A quarantine centre should be set-up within the next two-weeks. Each person should have a separate room, bathroom and good food,” Justice Gulzar said.
The court then adjourned the hearing of under-trial prisoners till next week. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed on Monday expressed severe displeasure over federal government’s measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic. “The government is just calling in meetings whereas no work is being done on the ground,” CJP Ahmed remarked during hearing a petition filed against Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) verdict of realising under trial prisoners due to COVID-19 outbreak.
The CJP said that here is no hospital in Islamabad where he could go as all Out Patient Departments (OPD) had been closed.
“What kind of medical emergency is this in the country,” the chief justice said. “All hospitals and clinics should remain open.” The CJP was irked when the Supreme Court received a letter from the Ministry of Health asking it to close its dispensary.
“Why should it be closed,” CJP Ahmed said. “This is no way to fight a pandemic.”
The attorney general (AG) said that the centre is taking best possible measures to fight the deadly contagion. He further stated that another report, apprising about the situation in the country is also submitted before the court. The top judge said that Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari filed a reply that the Peshawar High Court has ordered the release of 3,200 prisoners.
Attorney-General replied that no such verdict was given by the (PHC) adding that the human rights minister might be mistaken.