ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court yesterday challenged the government over the scale of poaching of rare birds in Balochistan.

The federal and Balochistan governments had claimed that a small number of endangered species of houbara bustard is hunted in the province by wealthy Arabs.

However, the court contested the claim when Justice Dost Muhammad, a member of three-judge bench, cited a report that as many 2,100 internationally protected birds had been poached in Balochistan.

Justice S Khawaja was hearing a petition against the issuance of illegal hunting permits to royal visitors from Gulf countries for hunting houbara bustard.

The petitioner, Zahoorul Haq requested the bench to cancel all the licences for hunting Houbara bustard.

In November 2014, Balochistan High Court, had cancelled the permits issued to foreigners - including Arab royals - for hunting the rare birds.

Additional Advocate General Balochistan requested the court to allow for sustainable hunting under strict codes of conduct.

He said the provincial government had allowed hunting in view of the Economic Coordination Committee’s May 2014 decision.

The court questioned under what law the houbara bustard hunting has been allowed. Justice Dost said whether it is the provincial governments’ authority to permit illegal hunting after the 18th Amendment.

The bench in its earlier hearing had sought comprehensive reports from all provincial governments regarding the illegal issuance of permits to foreign visitors.

Additional Attorney General Amir Rehman requested the court to adjourn the case for a week. But Justice Dost said it is possible only if he gives undertaking that no Sheikh (Arab royal) would be issued licences for hunting houbara bustard.

He also requested the court to club all the petitions regarding the matter claiming the federal government did not issue any permit of hunting after the verdict of Balochistan High Court and Sindh High Court.

Later, the hearing was adjourned until today.