SC tells govt to take Covid-19 seriously

• CJP asks govt to adopt national legislation instead of using executive orders for SOPs enforcement
• Bench seeks record of aircraft, other measures being taken to tackle locust invasion

ISLAMABAD: With at least two judges contracting the novel coronavirus, the Supreme Court on Monday reminded the federal government to take the health emergency seriously and come up with a uniform national legislation.

“This becomes important more so when the passing of the executive orders to deal with the pandemic has trampled and affected the fundamental rights of people,” said an order dictated by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed.

“We are also feeling the heat in this court as two judges have tested positive,” observed the Chief Justice of Pakistan while heading the SC bench that had taken up a suo motu notice of the prevention of coronavirus.

Instead of the five-judge bench, the SC bench hearing the case on Monday comprised only four judges, who were seated at some distance from each other.

Also, the hearing of challenges to the filing of the presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa was postponed till June 11 due to the unavailability of one of the judges of the 10-judge full court of the Supreme Court.

Legislation at national level

About the coronavirus situation in the country, CJP Ahmed observed: “Difficulty is this that no law has been passed despite the fact that we have been emphasising for adopting the law at the national level which should be applicable to the entire country.”

Altering its May 15 direction that shops may not be closed on Saturdays and Sundays owning to the Eid festival, the four-judge SC bench in its fresh direction allowed the government to make policies in accordance with its strategies to meet the Covid-19 threat.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan observed: “I don’t think that any province will have any problem on agreeing with a uniform law.” He said all four provincial governments could sit and come out with the law.

He said it was a national emergency as the fatalities were on the rise with more than 100,000 people being affected by the disease.

Justice Ahsan suggested to the federal government to take the lead as the deadly virus never distinguished between the people.

The observations came when Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan said the federal government was “making all-out efforts to contain” the spread of the virus, but requested the apex court to lay emphasis on the enforcement of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in its order as it would then carry more weight.

The CJP observed that Covid-19 was a national problem and should be taken at the national level. “Why the legislatures cannot function when other institutions are functioning,” Justice Ahmed remarked while recalling how China, followed by other countries, immediately made the law when the virus had started spreading.

“You want to stop all activity through the executive order. [It] is not permissible since it encroaches upon the fundamental rights of the people,” the chief justice declared, observing that the government could not just implement SOPs by holding press conferences.

“The executive orders and the legislative functions were totally different,” the chief justice reminded the attorney general.

Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Naqvi wondered why the government could not sit with open arms and find a solution to the current issue through proper legislation.

“Time is the essence and the federal government does not have much time to deal with the situation,” Justice Ahsan highlighted.

The attorney general assured the court that he would advise the government for adopting a uniform national policy.

The chief justice recalled how the Supreme Court in its April 7 order had highlighted the importance of national level legislation, but nothing in this regard had been done till date. Therefore, he said, the federal government should take this matter seriously and ensure legislation at the national level.

The court was not happy when a member informed the bench that 100 labs across the country were conducting coronavirus tests. It asked the NDMA to furnish details of the machines imported for DESTO to produce personal procurement equipment.

Referring to sanitary workers, the court ordered that the government ensure that without the protective kits, the workers were not allowed to enter or work inside manholes for cleaning or related activities. The apex court ordered the government to ensure protective laws by taking measures within a period of two weeks.

Locust invasion: aircraft record sought

About the locust threat, the court summoned complete record regarding acquiring of an aircraft from Turkey on wet lease for spraying insecticides on the affected areas.

According to the court order, such documents must include full details regarding the number of employees, who rode with the plane, the salary and emoluments paid to them, so also the details of service so far provided by this plane.

The court also sought explanation for non-utilisation of the remaining three planes of the Plant Protection Department. “This is necessary, for when Pakistan had four aeroplanes for spraying purposes why the need was felt for the obtaining of an aeroplane on a wet-lease and yet, we note that three aeroplanes are still not in operation,” the order said.

The court also expressed its dismay that only one Beaver aircraft was operating out of the four with the Plant Protection Department though three helicopters were also in operation to combat the menace of locust attack in addition to 96 vehicles.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) representative Idrees Mehsud told the court that a survey of 26 million hectors had been conducted and 529,000 hectors of this area had been treated so far.

The SC in its order observed that locusts had been in Pakistan for a long time and they had completed two cycles of their breeding in the territory of Pakistan. The court noted that all-out efforts had not been undertaken to combat this menace.

According to the apex court, there is no doubt that the locusts pose a serious danger to the agriculture sector in Pakistan, in that it may wipe out most of the agricultural production and there may occur serious shortage of agricultural goods.

“This shortage of agricultural goods may lead to a shortage of food for the people. Thus, we note that the locusts have to be immediately dealt with and totally eradicated from Pakistan with due promptitude in order to ensure that it does not cause substantial loss to the agriculture sector of Pakistan,” the order said.

Therefore, it added, the Department of Plant Protection as well as the NDMA should file a categorical and comprehensive report in this regard before the next date of hearing.