The era of no taxes on mobile pre-paid cards proved to be a tragically short affair. This Wednesday, the Supreme Court on Wednesday restored deduction of withholding tax, sales tax and service charges on pre-paid cellular scratch cards by vacating its earlier suspension order.

While youngsters around the country may be grieved at the reversal of this policy, the fact of the matter is that the suspension order, released by former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar in the May of last year, was more of a populist decision rather than a sustainable one. Chief Justice Nisar had termed the deduction of Rs40 on ever Rs100 pre-paid mobile card as “exploitation” but this deduction was part of tax policy which cannot just be disregarded without catering to the damages that the government could incur. At a previous hearing, the Court was told that about Rs120 billion was earned by the Punjab government, Rs90bn by the Sindh government, Rs36bn by the Balochistan government and Rs55bn by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government through such deductions annually, and that the imposition of the suspension order had caused the state to suffer a loss of about Rs90 billion. While waiving off a tax, there are hundreds of stakeholders which need to be considered, showing why perhaps imposing and reserving taxes is a duty better relegated to policy-makers than courts.

Even if the practical impact of the suspension order were set aside, there were several ideological and legal issues that arose with the idea of the judiciary deciding taxes, which were raised before the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The case had been taken up on suo moto notice on the observation that it involved public interest. Yet the FBR contended that the matter regarding deduction on scratch cards was beyond the scope of Article 184(3) of the Constitution as it did not violate the fundamental rights of people. Indeed, the Court revoking a specific tax on mobile pre-paid cards, which were a part of well-thought legislation, veers dangerously into the territory of the Court making policy. Indeed, these considerations led to the Chief Justice Khosa vacating the suspension order, commenting that the Court did not want to interfere in revenue matters.

Thus, there lies the end of a sad short saga of tax-less pre-paid mobile cards, until we realised that every tax waived off has a steep price, which is why these decisions should be left to policy-makers, than the judiciary.