The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has observed that the Supreme Court would not allow national assets to be sold off. He said this on Thursday while hearing arguments in a suo moto case being heard by the two-member bench of the court on the Railways failure to pay salaries and pensions for the last month in time. He thereby extended the scope of the present hearing from just the Railways to all state enterprises. In the case of the Railways, this assurance was particularly needed after the Minister in charge, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour of the ANP, had suggested the winding up of the Railways. The Chief Justice was harsh on Railways Secretary Javed Ahmed, who is ex-officio Chairman of the Railways Board, whose report to the Supreme Court included a demand for Rs 28 billion to rehabilitate the Railways, a demand which was not just rejected by the court, but apparently also resented, with the Chief Justice remarking that a new Railways Department could be raised for that much money. The information placed before the court made it very clear that it had been a victim of bureaucratic inefficiency and massive corruption. The question apparently exercising the court was the relaxation of the Procurement Regulatory Authority rules for the purchase of locomotives, which has been at the root of the financial crisis afflicting the Railways. While Mr Ahmed said that the rules had been relaxed to allow the crisis to be handled, former Railways Minister Sh Rashid Ahmad, who was made a party in the case on Thursday, argued that the relaxation was done to facilitate corruption, and was carried out at the highest level. One of the things appearing from the hearing so far has been the fact that, like PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills, Railways has also been regarded as a cash cow, and has been run to the ground not because of the state being in unprofitable business, but because corrupt elements at the highest level used it to make money without any regard to the millions of people who used it as transport, both for people and goods. The Supreme Courts threat to have NAB investigate corruption cases was rightful, for the gap between detecting a crime and bringing culprits to book is supposed to be limited, and only goes towards establishing the rule of law, which is what the court is attempting to do. It is only through establishing the rule of law that the sale of state enterprises will be prevented. The disclosures about the Railways are only part of that effort, and have been caused only because things had gotten so out of hand that salaries and pensions could not be paid.