SC orders opening of shopping malls


-Finds no valid reason for keeping malls closed
-Traders hail Apex Court’s judgement in suo motto case
-Federal, Provincial Governments implement judgement with cautions regarding SOPs
-Public throng markets for Eid-ul-Fitr shopping

By Shakeel Ahmed

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the reopening of shopping malls across the country on Monday, which were shut down during the lockdown imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
The five-member larger bench of the Supreme Court was hearing a suo moto case regarding measures taken against the virus outbreak.
The bench was headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed while Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed were also on the bench.
During the hearing today, Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed remarked that if the shops are shut down then shopkeepers will ‘die of hunger rather than the coronavirus’. CJP Ahmed said that in Karachi, except for five big malls every market has resumed operations.
Upon which, Commissioner Karachi Iftikhar Shallwani said that a few markets were sealed for not following the Standard Operating Procedures laid out by the government. “The sealed markets should be opened and instead of intimidating them (shop owners) make them understand (the situation and SOPs),” remarked the top judge. The apex court also ordered that on the weekends, all the small markets should remain open to public.
The top court picked up the case to keep a review on the measures taken by the Centre and provincial governments to stem the spread of the virus among people.
So far, the top court has summoned officials from provinces, NDMA, Health department, and local government setup in cities to present a report on the policy and implementation of measures.Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed on Monday issued directions to reopen shopping malls across the country.
During a hearing of a suo motu case regarding measures taken to deal with the coronavirus crisis being heard by a five-member bench comprising the CJP, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed Justice Ahmed questioned the “logic” behind keeping malls closed.
In its written order, issued hours after the hearing was adjourned, the court noted that the Punjab government and Islamabad administration had approached the National Health Services and Research Centre (NHSRC) for permission to reopen malls and will likely obtain one today. “If such can be done by the biggest province of Pakistan, i.e. Punjab, why the similar cannot be done by Sindh and apparently, we find no valid reason or justification for the same,” the order read, directing Sindh government to approach the NHSRC for permission today.
It also observed that markets and shops were also opened in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit-Balitistan, and the governments had agreed to ensure that standard operating procedures (SOPs) are followed. “We expect that after such application is made, the NHSRC shall give their decision today and if their decision is that shopping malls are allowed to open, the respective provincial government shall allow the shopping malls to be open and shall not create any hindrance or obstruction in this regard but ensure that SOPs are followed,” the court order said. The order also addressed the opening of markets on Saturday and Sunday, saying that the move was a “violation of Articles 4, 18 and 25 of the Constitution” and was not “justifiable”.
“We do not find any justifiable rational or reasonable classification on the basis of which these two days are excluded from doing business, for that, all days of the week are the same. It is for the convenience of the human beings that the days have been given names, otherwise, there is no distinction between other days of the week from Saturday and Sunday.”
The order “declared [the decision] to be illegal and accordingly set aside”.
Earlier, during the hearing today, the chief justice had remarked: “Coronavirus does not go anywhere on Saturday and Sunday. “What is the reason behind keeping markets closed on Saturday and Sunday?”
While responding to the queries by the bench, Sindh Advocate General Salman Talibuddin said that the province was implementing all decisions made by the National Coordination Committee (NCC), which is headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The bench said that it will be the governments’ responsibility to ensure that SOPs are being followed. The court also restricted Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani, who had appeared before court today, from sealing shops and markets. “Instead of sealing shops, make sure that SOPs are followed,” the chief justice said and directed the commissioner to reopen the shops that had been sealed. He inquired which “small markets” had been opened in the metropolis. The Sindh advocate general said that all markets, except shopping malls, were open.
“Are Zainab Market and Raja Bazar small markets?” the chief justice asked.
“About 70 per cent people go to malls for fun,” Shallwani said. Earlier this month, the government had decided to ease restrictions across the country and had allowed businesses to operate with SOPs in place. Markets that had been closed as part of measures taken to curb the novel coronavirus were also reopened. The SOPs went out the window once the lockdown was eased as hordes of people headed out to markets without taking any precautionary measures. The Karachi administration had sealed multiple stores, markets and salons for allowing large crowds to gather.
The top court bench, in its written order, said that it was “not at all satisfied” by the report presented by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), saying that it could “find no reason why so much money is being spent on this coronavirus”.