Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on Thursday censured the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government over its failure to provide clean drinking water to citizens and the unsatisfactory progress made by it for the disposal of sewage and industrial waste.
The CJP, who was hearing a suo motu case at the Supreme Court’s Peshawar registry, ordered KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak to appear before the court and explain the reasons behind his government’s shortcomings.
When the chief minister appeared before the three-member bench, the CJP informed him that he had visited Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) earlier in the day but observed no improvement in the state of affairs there.
“Do you know what is the population of Peshawar [and] how much waste is flowing into its streams?” he asked Khattak, who remained silent in response.
“It is your duty to satisfy the public, which you failed to do,” remarked the CJP, who is in Peshawar for a two-day visit during which he will be hearing cases at the SC’s Peshawar registry.
The CJP observed that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)-led government makes tall claims, but asked the chief minister how many new hospitals and schools were constructed during the last five years of his government, which he stressed was “not a short amount of time”.
“The slogan of ‘honour the vote’ is being raised [by political leaders], [but] the real honour lies in serving the public,” Justice Nisar remarked.
Chief Minister Khattak then defended his government’s performance, saying the structure of schools and hospitals was in a shambles when he started and things have since improved.
“You would have seen [how bad the situation was] if you had visited four years ago,” he said, adding that the results of his administration’s educational and other efforts will become apparent 4-5 years later.
But the CJP appeared unconvinced, saying he has had to face “hopelessness” from every side. He said he was well aware that things were being cleaned up in Peshawar a week in advance of his visit.
Justice Nisar had earlier in the day grilled provincial officials over the steps taken to ensure that clean drinking water is available to citizens.
“Which canal are you throwing Peshawar’s waste into?” he asked KP Chief Secretary Azam Khan, before asking why no dumping ground existed in the city for the purpose.
Justice Nisar took the secretary to task when he informed the court that sewerage water is dumped into canals and rivers. “You say everything is good here … where is your ‘good governance’?” he asked.
At the outset of the hearing of a case concerning the disposal of hospitals’ waste, the CJP had remarked that the conditions in hospitals of Karachi and Lahore has improved on the court’s orders and asked the health secretary what the situation was like in KP.
The health secretary revealed that a total of 1,570 hospitals are operating in the province while two districts lack a district headquarters (DHQ) hospital. On the court’s orders, the secretary also submitted a report about the process adopted by the government to dispose of medical waste.
Visit to medical college
The CJP also heard a case about exorbitant fees charged by private medical colleges in the province.
The administration of Al-Razi Medical College informed the court that the students were being charged Rs800,000 fee per year. However, a student present at the hearing informed the court that he was being charged Rs1.2 million and presented receipts to corroborate his claim.
At this, the CJP ordered the college to return the extra fees charged to students on an immediate basis. He also ordered authorities to seize the college’s records and freeze its assets.
Justice Nisar later also visited Al-Razi Medical College, where he interacted with students and examined the facilities.
“Tell [me] honestly how much fees you have paid?” he asked a class of medical students. “You don’t need to be afraid at any time, no one can expel you [from this college],” he had assured the students.
‘No improvement’ at the Lady Reading Hospital
The CJP then visited the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), the largest public sector teaching hospital in the province.
“I saw no improvement during my visit to LRH,” the CJP remarked after the visit, and asked the chief secretary how many hospitals the provincial government had built along the lines of LRH in the last five years.
“What steps were taken to reduce the throng of patients at LRH,” he asked.
APS victims’ parents plead for justice
Meanwhile, the parents of some children who had perished in the Army Public School attack in December 2014 appeared before the SC today.
Emotional scenes were witnessed when the parents informed the court that their “generations had ended with their children’s death” but they had yet to receive justice over the tragedy.
The CJP, who was visibly moved by the victims parents’ pleas, sought one week’s time to seek the government’s response. The court subsequently issued notices to the federal and provincial governments to file their replies in the case.
Personal security case
While hearing a separate case about the deployment of security personnel in the province, the CJP ordered that all additional security protocol granted to unrelated persons be withdrawn.
The order was issued after KP Inspector General Salahuddin Mehsood informed the court that as many as 3,000 security personnel were currently deployed for ‘personal security’ throughout the province.
“Those who possess everything can also arrange their own security,” the CJP remarked. He ordered the KP police chief to withdraw all police personnel deployed for the security of officials by midnight. The IG assured the court that the same will be done by the evening.
The apex court, under its 2018 agenda, is focusing on human rights issues, particularly those relating to the people’s right to quality education and healthcare. However, this course of action is also being seen as an overstepping of boundaries by the Supreme Court, similar to the Iftikhar Chaudhry era.
However, the chief justice has stood by the court’s actions, reiterating that such criticism will not deter him from exercising what he considers is his “constitutional right.”
Setting controversy over judge’s reference to rest
While addressing a gathering of lawyers at the Peshawar High Court in the afternoon, the CJP sought to end misgivings among KP’s legal fraternity about why no reference was held on the eve of retirement of Supreme Court judge Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, who hails from KP’s Bannu district.
PHC Chief Justice Yahya Afridi had last month called on CJP Nisar to convey the resentment expressed by the Peshawar High Court Bar Association (PHCBA) over the non-holding of the reference.
The absence of the reference and subsequent dinners by the SC as well as the Pakistan Bar Council and the Supreme Court Bar Association had stirred rumours about a “conspiracy” being the reason why the reference wasn’t held.
In an effort to put the issue to rest, Justice Nisar told the lawyer’s gathering that Justice Khan had refused to attend the reference due to personal reasons and he was handed over some gifts by the judges over tea instead.
The CJP regretted that he was accused by the PHCBA of preventing the reference from taking place without looking into the reasons.
“You assumed that I would be so cheap and shallow […] so as to bid farewell to an outgoing friend like this?” he said, adding that he is open to arranging a reference for Justice Khan even now if he so desires.
The CJP also took the opportunity to once again urge the judges of lower courts to decides cases expeditiously, saying it was their duty to provide quick justice to the public.