Volume 22 Issue 2, February 2018


”The Judiciary dispenses justice according to the law and protects basic rights. If any authority or state institution violates the Constitution then the Judiciary has the power to review it. Injustice leads to chaos and anarchy, thus it is essential to ensure rule of law.”

–Supreme Court Chief Justice, Mian Saqib Nisar, at a full-court reference to mark the start of the new judicial year

Pakistan is a country whose “pillars of state,” do not function properly. This is particularly true of the executive branch, which is steeped in pervasive corruption and inefficiency. Hence, there is a lack of good governance. To correct the situation, the army has frequently assumed power. But it has failed to ensure an efficient civil administration because it is primarily equipped to defend the country‘s borders and not trained as adminitrators. Establishing the rule of law by keeping the executive on a tight leash is not its cup of tea. That is a function best performed by the judges, because they are the custodians of the Constitution and fundamental rights of the citizens.

The basic duty of ensuring the rule of law in Pakistan, therefore, devolves on the Judiciary. It has often come to the assistance of the helpless through its suo motu proceedings against errant and high-handed officials, both civil and military. As the Chief Justice observes, “The court took suo motu notices on reports of violation of basic human rights.”

For example, the apex court’s human rights cell decided 29,657 complaints in the previous judicial year, providing relief to those affected. Also, it has been due to the Supreme Court’s intervention that a number of missing persons have been traced and rescued from the clutches of their captors.

The prestige of the Judiciary suffered in the past, due to certain controversial verdicts that endorsed high-handed actions of usurpers of power, as in the matter of Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin’s dismissal by Governor General, Ghulam Mohammad, or legitimized military takeovers. But that is now left behind since the Judiciary has redeemed itself with its brilliant record in ensuring the rule of law.

In 2017, for instance, the superior Judiciary - the Supreme Court and the high courts – took up cases of public interest, especially those relating to basic amenities. Worried about failure or shortcomings of governance, the superior courts seemed to be conveying the message that they would set things right, especially in the education, health, water and sanitation sectors.

In Sindh, particularly where the rot was the worst, the Judiciary played a vital role in redressing pubic grievances during the year. It issued directives to federal and provincial governments to put in place measures for the protection of fundamental rights regarding ‘life and property’ of the residents of Sindh.

In one instance, the SC grilled Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah through a documentary which showed the ‘filth’ of the province and lack of basic amenities such as availability of potable water, sanitation and a pollution-free environment.
In yet another move, the apex court constituted a judicial commission to carry out province-wide inspections to investigate the authorities’ negligence in protecting fresh water sources, the environment and marine life.

To control marine pollution, the apex court directed the additional attorney general to convey to the prime minister to help the provincial government in controlling growing marine pollution caused by dumping of 460 million gallons of toxic and untreated industrial effluent and domestic waste into the sea every day. The court passed this direction with regard to the recently approved joint plan of the federal and provincial governments to install five combined effluent treatment plants across Sindh for the treatment of industrial and domestic waste.

Taking notice of nearly 35,000 amenity plots in Karachi being under adverse possession and used for commercial activities, the SC ordered the Karachi Development Authority and Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to reclaim such spaces.
The most important instance of judicial intervention, however, occurred when the Sindh government arbitrarily tried to remove the Sindh Police Inspector General (IG). A. D. Khawaja allegedly for not following its orders. The Sindh High Court ruled that Khawaja would complete the tenure of his service and exercise his full official authority and powers during his tenure to effectively and efficiently handle his force.

When the provincial government tried to circumvent the court’s orders by surrendering the IG’s services to the federal government voluntarily and appointing Additional IG Abdul Majeed Dasti in his place, the judges set the move at naught, ruling that the provincial government could not interfere in the administrative affairs of the police department, including removing the IG without completing his tenure.

Meanwhile, the commission, headed by Justice Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro of the Sindh High Court, shot a video during its visits to inspect the water resources and water filtration and sewerage treatment plants in Karachi and other districts of Sindh that showed the supply of filthy drinking water and poor sanitation conditions. Later, the Supreme Court inquired of the Sindh Advocate General whether the said video had been shown to the members of the Sindh Assembly, because the court wanted to jolt the lawmakers from their slumber to see the miserable conditions the people of Sindh had been living in.

And that is what the superior Judiciary is sincerely doing, because no other institution is delivering, leave the executive alone, due to its proverbial inefficiency. Even the other so-called “pillars of the state” seem to be in a moribund state. The parliament does not enact laws to improve the quality of life of the people. The famous fourth pillar - the media - too lacks the vigour to explore and reveal startling facts.

The Judiciary is the only institution in the country, therefore, to which people in distress look forward to for relief.

The writer is a senior political analyst and former editor of SouthAsia.
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