Hoodwinking the court

December 04, 2017

LAHORE - The Lahore High Court (LHC) last week rejected an outdated Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report on a police complex being built in the residential area of Old Anarkali and directed the Punjab government’s law officer to come up with the latest report, if any.

The government submitted the EIA report prepared in 2010 for the project, which was approved in 2017. The petitioners’ counsel, Advocate Taffazul Haider Rizvi, contended that under the law life of the EIA was three years but the government was relying on the report even after seven years. The counsel said the police department could not present a law in support of its stance that it required no permission to do construction anywhere.

Justice Sajid Mahmood Sethi observed that the court would decide the case at next hearing in any case when the law officer sought more time to submit more documents in support of the construction. The judge adjourned the hearing until Dec 4. Khurshid Alam and other residents of the area had moved a petition challenging construction of the police complex, which they said was a sensitive installation and would put lives of the locals in danger. The petitioners’ counsel argued that the government had been using delaying tactics to prolong the proceedings. The government was seeking time to file satisfactory reply on the one hand and speeding up construction work on the project on the other, he said. In fact, he contended, the government was hoodwinking the court , as it has no approval for construction of the complex in the residential area.

The petitioners had submitted that terrorist attacks were carried out on buildings of law enforcement agencies in the past and these attacks had resulted in loss of life and property of citizens. The lives of residents of this area, he said, were already miserable due to extraordinary security measures taken for the nearby office of the Punjab Police Inspector General. He said construction of a multi-storey police complex at Rabbani Road (Old Anarkali) would create problems for people as it would entail similar security arrangements.

They said that the land in question had been previously used for single-storey residences of police officers. They prayed to the court to restrain the authorities from building the investigation complex keeping in view the fact that the area was purely residential and had schools. They said the complex would put people’s lives at peril and jeopardise the safety and security of the area. In another case, the LHC reserved judgement last week on petitions challenging central admission policy for both public and private medical colleges, and restrained the private colleges from offering admission and displaying merit lists till announcement of the decision.

A division bench headed by Justice Ayesha A. Malik and Justice Jawad Hassan heard the petitions moved by students and Young Doctors Association. During the proceedings, Advocate Ijaz Ahmad Awan, who was representing students, submitted that the last date had been announced by the medical colleges for admission to MBBS.University of Health Sciences (UHS) has also sought applications, the counsel said, adding that students are worried as to where they have to apply for admission. The counsel for private colleges told the court that the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) had barred them from admitting new students and rules for admission had not been presented to the Council of Common Interests for a debate.

Students have been approaching them for admissions while their parents ask about the admissions policy every day, the counsel said. The public medical colleges cannot accommodate all medical students, he said, therefore private colleges be allowed to offer admissions.

Advocate Noshab A Khan who was representing PMDC said that existing laws have been implemented and all private and public colleges are bound to comply with the laws of the PMDC.

According to the law, he said, private medical colleges are not allowed to sell their prospectus but it is very awful that private medical colleges are involved in offering admissions to students. This is illegal and unjustifiable, he said. Such attitude of private colleges is ruining medical education and depriving many eligible students of admission, the counsel said.

It was the reason that a central induction policy was introduced under which UHS was given powers to allow colleges to go ahead with admissions, he said. Khan also submitted that the UHS offered merit-based admissions in 34 medical colleges and fixed 15 per cent quota for overseas Pakistanis. He asked the court to bar private medical colleges from offering admission to MBBS. Also, the LHC reserved judgment on a petition challenging appointment of senior journalist Absar Alam as chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra). Concluding his arguments, Pemra’s counsel Ali Shah Gillani opposed the petition. However, he sought more time from the court to furnish record relating to the appointment, which he was supposed to present.

However, Justice Shahid Karim rejected his plea and observed that if there was any such record the same would have been produced before the court much earlier. Azhar Siddique, the petitioner’s counsel, also opposed the request pleading that the court had sought the required record from the Pemra on Oct 6, 2016 while the petition had been pending for over two years. The judge observed that no more adjournment could be allowed at this stage; however, he permitted the Pemra lawyer to submit his written reply within a day or two.

The petitioner’s counsel said that Alam had been drawing Rs1.5 million salary per month whereas the post of Pemra chairman was equal to MP-I (Management Position) scale. He said the maximum salary for MP-I scale was Rs450,000.

Appointment of Alam was a clear case of nepotism and violation of merit on part of the federal government, he said. He said the government filled the permanent post of Pemra chairman with a temporary appointment. He submitted that the government relaxed education criteria for the post to accommodate the respondent. He prayed to the court to set aside the impugned appointment for being unlawful.During the week, a judge of the Lahore High Court admired army’s role in controlling the situation arising out of the Islamabad sit-in. Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmad was hearing a habeas corpus petition for recovery of Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) leader Nasir Abbas Sherazi from the alleged detention of law enforcement agencies. A senior officer from the Military Intelligence (MI) was also present in the court besides government law officers. The judge remarked had the military not ensured agreement between the government and the protesters there would have been massive killings due to police the operation.

The judge also said that everyone knew that it was the army, which saved the country from disaster. He referred to the recent martyrdom of Major Ishaq during a terrorist attack in Dera Ismail Khan and said that he could not sleep after seeing a picture showing wife of the young officer sitting by his coffin.

However, the judge expressed disappointment at the derogatory language used by politicians against the judiciary. He addressed the law officer and told him to convey to the ministers that they should respect the courts. However, the judge did not name any political party. Taking up the matter of the missing MWM leader, the judge regretted that finding whereabouts of a missing person had become impossible for the government and its agencies. Colonel Ahmad of MI told the court that they had no information about the allegedly abducted leader of the MWM.  Justice Ahmad showed dismay at non-appearance of officials from Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) despite court orders. He adjourned the hearing until Dec 4 with directives to the Punjab police and the intelligence agencies to ensure recovery of the petitioner’s brother.

In a petition against the Federal Board of Revenue, the LHC directed the chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to strictly ensure timely disposal of appeals against recovery of income and sales tax notices.Justice Shahid Jamil Khan observed that directions had been issued to the FBR to evolve a policy for early disposal of appeals pending before the Commissioner Inland Revenue (Appeals).

However, they had not been complied with.

The FBR chairman said rules were being made in light of the court’s directions but there were some difficulties in the process, which would be overcome soon. The FBR sought time to ensure implementation of the court directions and make rules for timely decision on appeals.