ISLAMABAD-The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday turned down a petition against the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) orders to convert hotels into quarantine facilities for treating coronavirus patients.

A single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice Athar Minullah conducted hearing of the petition filed after the NDMA issued orders to turn three-star and four-star hotels into quarantine centres and dismissed the petition.

In its written order, the IHC bench stated that through this petition, the petitioners have assailed orders, dated 16.03.2020 and 28.03.2020, whereby National Disaster Management Authority has directed vacation of “three/four star hotels” and their conversion into “quarantine centres” in order to meet the challenges posed by the prevailing extra ordinary situation.

Justice Athar noted in the verdict, “The Federal Government has taken several measures to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. The measures taken by the Federal Government and the Authority are obviously to safeguard the public at large and their fundamental rights. It is an extraordinary situation and it is settled law that the interest of public at large prevails over individual rights.”

He added, “The learned counsel, despite his able assistance, was not able to satisfy this Court that the jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 ought to be exercised in the prevailing exceptional circumstances. It is noted that the said jurisdiction is discretionary in nature.”

According to the court order, it is in public interest not to exercise the jurisdiction because it will inevitably amount to interference with the measures taken by the Authority and the Federal Government to meet the challenges that have arisen due to the extraordinary circumstances.

It cannot be ruled out that interference by this Court with the decisions of the Authority and the Federal Government, may risk jeopardizing the interests of public at large and their fundamental rights.

This Court is, therefore, satisfied that restraint ought to be exercised.

The IHC Chief Justice maintained, “In view of the above, this Court is not inclined to exercise its jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, and, therefore, this petition is accordingly dismissed.”

He further added, “It is observed that in case the petitioner hotel suffers loss, it would not be without remedy because in such an eventuality remedies available under the law can be resorted to later.”

In the petition, the petitioner contended that the NDMA is not authorised to take such a decision and the government should utilise places owned by it rather than turning to private properties.

He cited the home secretary, secretary health, NDMA chairman and the chief commissioner Islamabad as respondents.

In response to the petition, the IHC judge said that the government is taking measures for the protection of its people. “How can the court interfere then?” he remarked.

He further said that when it comes to protecting the people, the government can even use my home.

The petitioner’s lawyer argued that even if a constitutional emergency is invoked, fundamental rights cannot be suspended.

He said that due to the coronavirus outbreak, hotel staff has been on leave since March 28.

The bench suggested that if the petitioner thinks the decision will cause damage to hotels, he can make a claim later on.