The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Monday (08-June-2020) stressed that the Federal government needs to take COVID-19 seriously and come up with a uniform national legislation to overcome this health emergency. This comes at the time when at least two judges of the Supreme Court have tested positive for COVID-19.
A 4 judge bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, comprising Justices Gulzar Ahmed (Chief Justice), Ijaz ul Ahsan, Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed, and Sayyed Mazahar Ali and Akbar Naqvi, conducted hearing of a suo-moto notice on Federal and the provincial governments' measures to combat COVID-19, and later deferred the proceedings in this matter for two weeks.
Attorney General Khalid Javed, Deputy Attorney General Sohail Mahmood and Idress Mehsud, Member (Legal) National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) appeared before the court.
The order, dictated by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed (heading the bench), acknowledged the fact that making law is essential to deal with the Pandemic; therefore in its order dated 07-04-2020, the Court had pointed out that it is important to formulate a uniform strategy at the national level; however, as the Court noted, nothing has been done in this regard.
When asked as to whether any law has been made in this regard, the Attorney General for Pakistan, Mr Khalid Javed Khan stated that "Although some Provincial Governments have made laws, as yet no law has been made at the national level for dealing with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its effects on the citizens."
In this regard, the Court in its order said that,
"…making of laws at the national level is essential for dealing with the cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and that this Court vide its order dated 07.04.2020 has emphasized its importance, however, we observe that the needful in this regard has not been done. We, therefore, re-emphasize the importance of legislation at the national level."
On the miseries of sanitary workers
The Attorney General also contended before the Top Court that the Federal Government, Provincial Governments, Local Governments, Cantonment Boards, ICT (Islamabad Capital Territory) and Gilgit-Baltistan Government, which are required to maintain sewerage, including man-holes and cleaning of medical refuse and general cleaning of their respective areas, should be directed to provide, to the sanitary workers, all required safety kits in order to ensure that while doing their work, their health is not adversely affected by any disease.
In response to this, the Court took cognisance of the problems and miseries of sanitary workers and ordered that no sanitary worker should be asked to indulge in the cleaning of sewerage manholes without carrying safety kits with themselves.
In an attempt to protect and reiterate the importance of the right to life and liberty (as guaranteed under Article 9 of the Constitution of Pakistan) of the sanitary workers, the Court in its order observed that,
"We note that sanitary workers, although employed for doing sanitary work, this does not mean that they should do sanitary work where their health and life may be jeopardized. They should not be asked to work beyond the call of duty."
Further, the Court also emphasised that all facilities should be provided to the sanitary workers, besides enacting laws for their protection.
On Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits and No. of laboratories conducting COVID-19 tests
The Court was informed by Mr Idrees Masood, Member, NDMA that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is being manufactured by Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POFs) Wah Cantt as well as DESTO (Defense Science and Technology Organization). It was also admitted that the machinery to manufacture PPE was recently imported by DESTO.
In response to this, Court ordered that the documents related to the import of machinery (involved in the manufacturing of PPE kits) should be filed by the NDMA with its next report to be submitted to the Court.
Further, since the member, NDMA was not aware of the correct number of laboratories conducting Coronavirus (COVID-19) tests in Pakistan, he was also directed by the Court to file a report listing details regarding all the laboratories which are operating all over Pakistan and are providing the testing facility for Coronavirus (COVID-19).
On the threat posed by locusts
Concerning locust, the Court was apprised of the fact that a survey has been carried out of 26 million hectares of land all over Pakistan, while 529,000 hectares of land has been sprayed.
Acknowledging the threat posed by the Locusts in the Country, the Supreme Court 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. Further, the Court noted that all-out effort had not been undertaken to combat this menace.
The Top Court noted, there is no doubt that the locusts pose a danger to the agriculture sector in Pakistan, in that it may wipe out most of the agricultural production and there may occur a serious shortage of agricultural goods.
The Court's order further read,
"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."
In this regard, the Top Court ordered that a categorical and comprehensive report (regarding the eradication of locusts) from the Department of Plant Protection, and also by the NDMA should be filed in the Court, before the next date of hearing.
During the hearing, the Court was informed that presently Pakistan has four spraying Beaver aircraft which are with the Department of Plant Protection, out of which one is operational and the remaining three are not operational due to lack of availability of pilots.
Apart from this, it was also informed to the Court that one aeroplane was obtained from Turkey, on a wet-lease, and the same is also being used to spray insecticides.
While the Court ordered that all documents of the wet-leased aeroplane from Turkey be filed with the next report, the Court further observed and ordered that,
"The non-use of the remaining three aeroplanes of the Department of Plant Protection should also be explained. 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."
On reopening of markets
In an earlier order dated 18.05.2020, the Supreme Court had observed that shops may not be closed on Saturday and Sunday owing to the approaching Eid-ul-Fitr.
Now on Monday (08-June-2020), the Court modified its previous order and withdrew its decision of opening markets and shopping malls and remarked that,
"Since Eid-ul-Fitr has already been observed, the order of opening of shops of Saturday and Sunday is recalled."
The Court further instructed the Government that it may make a policy for opening and closing of shops as per their strategy to meet the dangers of Coronavirus (COVID-19).