ISLAMABAD-Ministry of Finance and the National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) Friday submitted their replies before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in a petition filed by a citizen seeking prevention from private banks for collecting debts settlement during the lockdown.

A singe bench of the IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice AtharMinallah conducted hearing of this matter wherein it had issued notices to Secretary Finance, Chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Governor the State Bank of Pakistan and NRSP.

The bench had also directed the SBP and the Ministry of Finance to submit a report explaining whether measures have been taken to alleviate the hardships and difficulties faced by citizens who have obtained loans from the micro finance entities.

During the hearing, a joint secretary of Finance Ministry and officials of NRSP appeared before the court and submitted their replies.

The NRSP officials informed the court that their staffers did not harass the petitioners rather they had sent messages to their clients for deferment of the installments as per government guidelines.

Later, the IHC bench adjourned hearing in this matter till April 24 for further proceedings.

The petitioner had appeared before the court in person and stated that he had obtained loan from National Rural Support Programme. He added that because of the lockdown his business is suspended since several weeks. He further stated that in the prevailing exceptional circumstance it is not possible for him to pay the installments and several letters have been sent to various authorities but no response has been received as yet.

He asserted that despite the exceptional circumstances and lockdown, he is being harassed to pay his installments. He maintained that the prevailing circumstances are beyond his control and that his fundamental rights are being violated by forcing him to do what has become impossible to perform.

The IHC bench noted in its order, “The office is directed to issue notices to the Federal Government through the Secretary, Ministry of Finance, the Chairman, National Disaster Management Authority, the State Bank of Pakistan through the Governor and the National Rural Support Programme through its head office in Islamabad. It is noted that the lockdown has indeed suspended all business activities. It, therefore, may have given rise to a situation where the State owes a “duty of care” and “duty to rescue” towards those who have obtained loans from the micro finance entities, such as the National Rural Support Programme.”

According to the order, “The questions raised in this petition involve fundamental rights of not only the petitioner but the general public as well. Keeping in view the importance of the matter, UmerIjazGillani, Advocate and ChHaseeb Muhammad, Advocate, President, Islamabad High Court Bar Association are appointed as amici to assist this Court.”

It added, “The State Bank of Pakistan and the Ministry of Finance are directed to submit a report explaining whether measures have been taken to alleviate the hardships and difficulties faced by citizens who have obtained loans from the micro finance entities. They shall also explain whether the State owes a “duty of care” and “duty to rescue” towards the small and medium enterprises during the lockdown period. If the answer is in the affirmative then what measures have been taken to discharge such a duty.”

The order said, “The Secretary, Ministry of Finance is directed to nominate an authorized officer well conversant with the relief measures extended to small and medium enterprises and those who have obtained loans from micro finance entities but are facing hardship in payment of installments due to the prevailing exceptional circumstances.

Earlier, the Chief Justice of IHC directed the registrar office for converting an application written on a simple paper into a court petition filed by a citizen seeking prevention from private banks for collecting debts settlement during the lockdown. A citizen RafiqurRehman wrote a letter to the Chief Justice IHC stating that the revenue was restricted due to coronavirus and lockdown so that loan payments could not be made during such time.

He pleaded that banks staff after coming at doorsteps were harassing women due to delayed payments of debts. He requested the CJ for waiving off debts installments or suspension of installments in such a painful time.