ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered on Monday that shopping malls and markets should remain open seven days a week, which were earlier 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.
Today, the court also ordered the reopening of shopping malls across the country.
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 top judge also summoned details of all big shopping malls across Karachi from the city’s commissioner.
The Attorney General of Pakistan also presented arguments via video link from Karachi registry during today’s hearing, while Additional Attorney General appeared before the court.
The CJP expressed indignation over the violation of decisions undertaken during the National Command and Operations Centre’s sessions.
“What were the decisions taken by the NCOC?” said the top judge, to which Deputy Attorney General Sohail Mahmood responded that the NCOC decided to reopen the construction sector.
“What was the other decision,” continued asking the CJP.
“The NCOC’s other decision was to open small shops and community markets,” said the Deputy Attorney General, adding that the decision regarding reopening of big malls was not taken.
The CJP then inquired about the reason behind closing down markets on weekends, saying that the court will issue a written order that the small markets should remain open on Saturday and Sunday.
The CJP noted that the SOPs will be ‘better implemented’ at the big shopping malls.
The apex court also ordered that on the weekends, all the small markets should remain open to public.
Court expresses lack of satisfaction over NDMA report
The top court called the report presented by the NDMA unsatisfactory, saying that the country’s resources were being utilized in ‘a wrong manner’.
“Why has not our country gained the capapbility to produce its own testing kits?” he said to the representative of the NDMA.
To which the NDMA official responded that the Health Ministry can give a better response in the matter.
The CJP objected that there was no proper detail present regarding the expenditure of funds for anti-coronavirus measures.
The CJP remarked that the people of the country were not ‘servants’ of the Centre and provincial governments, adding that the citizens ‘are being held hostage in the name of quarantine’.
The top judge told the authority’s representative that the rights if the people are guaranteed in the Constitution and the government is not doing anyone ‘a favour’ by rendering its services.
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.
Govt welcomes SC order
Reacting to the SC order allowing markets and shopping malls to open seven days a week, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said today’s verdict is evidence that the federal government’s approach was in the right direction from day one.
Faraz said the needy and poor people were the centre of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s strategy and he tried to make sure that people don’t die of hunger during the coronavirus battle.
He urged the opposition to refrain from politicking. “The Supreme Court’s decision is enough to show that the Centre’s policies were right,” the information minister said.
The prime minister has emphasised that the health sector needs to be given due importance, he said.
Coronavirus has made us realise that the health sector should be improved and we should be ready for the future, the minister said.
Emphasising upon the need to follow the safety guidelines, Faraz said the virus has not ended and we are not sure when will it end. “We appeal to the public, that if the shops have reopened and trains services have resumed, they should show responsibility.”
Bilawal hopes for ‘sanity’
Meanwhile, Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto has responded cautiously to the apex court order.
“Hoping sanity prevails in the highest court of our land, he tweeted later in the day.
“I don’t want to believe that the superior judiciary would pass any judgment endangering the health & lives of the people of Pakistan.”
He said he was sure that all the honourable judges will give judgements based on facts and medical realities.