LAHORE - An anti-terrorism court (ATC) gave a historic verdict in an acid attack case last week. ATC Judge Sajjad Ahmad awarded 60-year imprisonment to a man after he was found guilty of throwing acid on a 21-year old girl who had turned down his marriage proposal. Nobody linked to an acid attack case was given such a punishment in the past. The court also imposed a fine of Rs3.9 million on Asmatullah, the convict. The court handed him down 25-year imprisonment twice under Section 7 of Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, and Sections 324 and 336/B of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860. Beenish Sharif, the victim, lost her eyes and face after the convict threw acid on her body when she was going to her home along with her father Muhammad Sharif in Defence A police precincts. The convict was at large and was hiding somewhere in Bhakkar from where police arrested him.

Advocate Gull Hassan Abbas, the lawyer who represented the victim girl, told The Nation that Asmatullah and Beenish had been engaged for a couple of years. However, the girl’s family came to know that Asmat was not a man of good character and announced that they did not want to marry their daughter to him. Abbas said Asmat, who belonged to Bhakkar, had been working with a local store in Defence for quite some time and did not have his own house in Lahore. The girl’s family asked him to buy a home first, but he said he had no money and borrowed Rs500,000 from the family to buy a home. The lawyer said the convict did not buy a home and rather deceived the family that he had paid Rs500,000 in cash and taken a house on mortgage. On this, he said, the girl’s family broke the engagement and this angered the convict. He then planned to carry out an acid attack on the girl, the lawyer said.

Interestingly, the court decided the case with no delay; the incident took place in September and the decision came in November.

Another important case, which overshadowed all cases last week, was the case of smog and environmental pollution. Usually, courts work until 4pm, but Lahore High Court Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah held his court in the evening and summoned officials of health and environment protection departments.

The chief justice heard the case of smog two times; first time in the early hours of the day and second time in the evening.

Announcing the judgement in the case, the chief justice held the Punjab Environment, Health and School Education departments responsible for a lack of coordination on formation of public health emergency policy to deal with the smog problem.

Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah gave three months to the Punjab government and held that the “new revised policy will assign a role to the Health Department as well as School Education Department to tackle the smog issue and pollution”.

The judgement says, “Smog touched the highest levels..., but no tangible steps were taken by the Environment Protection, Health and School Education departments for protection of health or safety of residents of Lahore, including children, pregnant women and people of old age.” The chief justice observed, “This is most disconcerting and disappointing.”

Walid Iqbal, grandson of national poet Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal, had moved the petition through Advocate Sheraz Zaka against failure of the Environment Protection Department to control smog and environmental pollution.

The judgement says, “As per the Smog Policy, when PM 2.5 concentration rises above 300 it is considered a severe health situation, which may have an impact on respiratory health of people and serious impact on health of people with lung/heart diseases. This impact can be experienced during light physical activity.”

The officials of the Punjab Environment Department told the court that they had been analysing and tabulating the data in order to formulate an action plan. EPD officials said they did not have written correspondence among the departments, including health and school education.

The health secretary told the court that they had been holding meetings on a daily basis for two weeks. However, readings of air monitoring machines were not discussed with his department, he said. The Health Department submitted the steps it had taken to educate people about the challenge of smog and environmental pollution. The health secretary said his department ran awareness programmes through newspapers and in the streets.

Barrister Sarah Belal and Fahad Malik, amici curiae, submitted that if the level of PM 2.5 crosses 300 ug/m3 it calls for declaration of health emergency and in support of this contention refers to the Public Health Emergency provisions) Ordinance, 1944. Ahmad Rafay, another amicus curiae, had brought a portable air monitoring indicator in the court and submitted that the level of PM 2.5 in the court was 494 ug/mg and outside the court it was slightly over 500 ug/m3.

After hearing officials and lawyers, the chief justice directed the secretaries of the aforementioned departments to sit together to formulate an emergency action plan to challenge smog and environment pollution. The chief justice sought progress report on “revised policy”, including the role of Environment, Health and School Education departments. The court adjourned the hearing until Dec 18.

Cases relating to Model Town inquiry report, detention of Hafiz Saeed and torture on hearing and speech impaired children remained prominent last week. In the Model Town inquiry report case, the Punjab government presented the inquiry report on the incident along with two other counter reports to a full bench of the Lahore High Court for in-camera perusal.

The bench headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and consisting of Justice Shehbaz Ali Rizvi and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmad took up the appeal moved by the Punjab government, challenging release of Model Town inquiry report.

Victims’ lawyers will argue at the next date of hearing, which is Nov 21. The Hafiz Saeed case was adjourned when a law officer had said that a provincial review board consisting of judges of the high court was scheduled to take up the detention matter of Saeed on Nov 21. He said the court should adjourn hearing of the petition till decision of the review board. The judge accepted the request and deferred the hearing until Nov 22.

However, in case of torture on hearing and speech impaired children, the chief justice ordered the Punjab Police inspector general to appoint two unarmed guards at every bus of Special Education Department carrying special children.

Moreover, the Supreme Court was requested to announce without further delay a verdict reserved seven months ago on a case about the multi-billion project of Orange Line Metro Train in Lahore. Barrister Zafarullah Khan of Watan Party made this request by filing a civil miscellaneous application at Lahore Registry of the Supreme Court, pleading that people of the city had been facing severe difficulties due to inordinate delay in completion of the metro train project. He claimed that over 100,000 cars, buses, auto rickshaws and bikes could have been out of roads reducing air pollution in the city if the project was completed in time. He submitted that a great loss to national exchequer had been caused by delay in the decision as construction work on the project stands suspended for almost a year.

He asked the court to announce the reserved judgement within the shortest possible time keeping in view difficulties of the citizens and public interest. He requested the court to allow him to become a party to the Orange Line Metro Train case.

A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan had on April 18 reserved the judgement in the case.