You must have quit after Tezgam tragedy, SC tells Sheikh
Minister told to submit plan for PR uplift in two weeks. Sheikh Rashid says he’ll abide by SC instructions.
January 28, 2020 03:47 PM
The Supreme Court Tuesday grilled Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid for rampant corruption in railways and observed he should have left the job after Tezgam fire tragedy, which killed 74 people.
A CJP-led three-judge bench ordered the federal minister to present in two weeks a business plan to improve the performance of the national organistaion, warning him of contempt proceedings in case of non-compliance.
The bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was hearing a suo motu case initiated by former CJP Saqib Nisar about losses incurred to the national exchequer by the Pakistan Railways (PR).
Talking to media outside the court in Islamabad after his court appearance on PR Audit Report, Sheikh said this report pertained to the period 2013-17 (when he was not the minister) but “we shall follow the court instructions”.
Earlier during the hearing, the chief justice asked Sheikh to inform the court about October 2019 fire, apparently caused by exploding of a cooking gas cylinder brought in a train compartment by a passenger, and what action they had taken.
“Your [Sheikh Rashid’s] entire performance is in front of us,” CJP Gulzar Ahmed said.
“Why should you not be held accountable for the deaths of 74 people? What investigation was conducted? You should have resigned after the incident,” asked the bench.
The minister responded by saying that the PR administration had dismissed several people following the tragedy.
During yesterday's (Monday)’s hearing “we were told that [only] two people were fired” over the incident, the judge remarked.
“You fired lower-level staffers, when will the top-ranking ones be [shown the door]?" asked the CJP.
"We will also fire higher-level employees," the minister responded.
But the judges seemed unimpressed and the chief justice quipped, "We do not see this happening…. Gatekeepers and train drivers were fired, [whereas] you are the top-most employee."
The minister implored that the only solution to problems of Railways was the ML-1 project, a 14-year-old project that has yet to be executed.
Justice Gulzar observed that ML-1 project was no magic wand which would put everything right.
Sheikh pleaded the court for more time. “I will resign if I did not deliver,” he added.
"Minister Sahib don't show people [unrealistic] dreams, today you are running an 18th-century railway… Even in 2020, your entire system is being run on parchis [small paper notes having no official status]."
The minister responded that he had been working 18 hours a day and their efforts had resulted in an increase in railways' passengers by seven million.
The CJP observed that looting and plundering of national resources was going on in the railway department at a massive scale. He said that the entire department was politicized and nothing was working properly.
“The stations and railway tracks are not in order. The freight trains are also not operating. Officers are inducted after taking bribes,” the top judge remarked.
During today's proceedings, the chief justice said: "Yes, Mr Sahib [Rashid], tell us what you are doing. Your whole story is in front of us. The railways will not function under your administration."
Yesterday (Monday), the court had observed that Railways was the most corrupt department in the country. The CJP remarked that the railways should be closed “We do not need such intuition,” he had said.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the apex court observed that ideally revenue from railways should take the department out of debt and make it profitable, but that was not happening.
The bench asked Sheikh Rashid to present a viable business plan for improving Railways’ lot in the next hearing. The court also warned that it will act if any deviation from the presented plan would happen.
The court also gave PR two weeks to complete work on the six-kilometre portion of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) and ordered Sindh Government to provide all assistance.
Adjourning the hearing until February 12, the Supreme Court summoned the federal minister and the planning secretary in the next proceeding.
Sheikh Rashid Media Talk
“We are thankful to the Supreme Court for taking up this matter. We shall proceed forward in light of its instructions. We shall also request the court to settle the stay orders issue,” Sheikh Rashid told reporters after the hearing.
Answering a question, he said, “This report is not of our tenure. But, we shall honor the court instructions. Even if the Chief Justice desired my resignation, I will abide by him.”
Asked about rumors about the government, he said, "Whenever you will ask me about the government, I would say, it will complete its tenure.”
When he was questioned about Buzdar’s staying as Punjab Chief Minister, Sheikh Rashid said, “As long as Imran Khan is Prime Minister, Usman Buzdar would continue as Punjab CM.”
The minister said he had predicted that on Army Chief’s extension issue, all political parties would vote in [his] favour during legislation in the Parliament.