Why SC should have a special bench to take suo motu notices?

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 09:21 PM, 14 Apr, 2020
Why SC should have a special bench to take suo motu notices?

The Supreme Court, while hearing a suo motu case – the first during the incumbency of Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed - on Monday, was critical of the performance of both the federal and Sindh governments; a heavy cabinet at the Centre; and failure of the elected legislators in performing their role when coronavirus has paralyzed life in the country.

The PTI and the PPP, in power at the Centre and Sindh, respectively, would have rejected the lacerating remarks coming from the court as criticism for the sake of criticism had they come from any other forum. But they will have to swallow SC’s comments– no matter how reluctantly. Whether the situation improves in the light of the SC’s observations will be seen in the days and weeks ahead.

Before analyzing the top court’s remarks on various subjects and their likely impact, one thing that can be said without an iota of doubt is that the Supreme Court MUST set up a permanent bench that should take suo motu notices of all unconstitutional, immoral things happening in society every day. Such an arrangement will also prevent the governments from taking arbitrary decisions because they will know that the watchful eyes of the Supreme Court are monitoring everything.

This role of the apex court would ward of many likely illegalities, bring about marked improvement in the situation and be a matter of great relief to people.

And now the top court’s observations made during Monday’s proceedings:

The court wondered why the parliament has held no session to discuss the situation created by deadly coronavirus.

It’s a very pertinent question.

The fact is that there is no check on the working of the so-called sovereign parliament.

Under the Constitution, the National Assembly is required to meet only 130 days a year. It’s the legislators’ discretion to attend a session or not. There are also reports of fake attendance – on the basis of which the worthy members claim various allowances.

There is no system to monitor the performance of the elected representatives.  Once somebody is elected by fair or unfair means, he will serve out the term, no matter whether he does something for his constituency or not.

And since it is for the legislators to frame rules for their working, the apex court can only point out lapses, not take any action.    

As a matter of principle, during the crisis-like situation created by coronavirus, the NA should have remained in session till the return of normalicy. In case the ruling coalition is reluctant to convene a session for any reason, the opposition should have requisitioned it like they have frequently been doing in the past for petty personal matters.

Unfortunately, on this front the ruling coalition as well as opposition identical thinking. Plague on both the houses.

During Monday’s proceedings, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed also raised questions over the size of the federal cabinet that also includes a large number of unelected advisers and special assistants.

“Advisers have been given the status of the federal ministers but despite this larger number of advisers, there is no betterment in the federal government’s performance to deal with the pandemic,” the CJ remarked.

“What is the point in having a 49-member cabinet?” he asked, visibly annoyed at its heavy size.

He is reported to have said that a 10-member cabinet is sufficient.

In the 49-member federal cabinet, there are five unelected advisers and 15 unelected special assistants.

Without naming anyone, the CJ noted that allegedly corrupt individuals have been inducted in the cabinet. He wondered how, despite having a number of advisers, the PM is ignorant about the issues related to subsidies.

The court assailed the federal and Sindh governments for not demonstrating a clear vision and warned of looming chaos and anarchy if extreme steps like lockdown were taken without a proper backup plan to cater to people’s needs.

The situation of this magnitude, the court observed, demands consensus and uniformity, but the provincial governments and the federal government are going in different directions.

When the apex court was making these remarks against the federal and provincial governments, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) observed that such testing times (as prevailing at present) necessitate having trust in measures being taken by federal and provincial governments to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

By these remarks the court dismissed a petition filed against the establishment of Tiger Force.

In his remarks, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah observed: “It is noted that the government is taking measures to deal with the crisis that has arisen due to the outbreak of coronavirus. The federal and provincial governments are dealing with the prevailing emergency situation and have taken appropriate measures. The petitioner union council has not placed anything on record to doubt that enough is not being done.”

The chief justice further said: “The court has constantly observed that in such situations there is a need for national unity and to have trust in the state to deal with the emergency situation.

Like parliament, the judiciary is also independent.

The common man doesn’t know whether to go by SC’s remarks about the working of the governments or he should trust the Islamabad High Court.

Categories : Opinion