In March 2021, Dr Tariq Banuri was removed as chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) by a cabinet decision made possible after ramming through an amendment to the HEC Ordinance that retroactively cut the duration of the chairman’s tenure from four down to two years. On January 18 of this year, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued a short order on the petition filed by Mosharraf Zaidi and others that reinstated Dr Tariq Banuri as chairman HEC.
Now, just a few days ago, the IHC issued its full verdict which contains a lot to unpack.
1) A major reason, which the IHC both highlighted and supported, is the protection of the autonomy of statutory institutions. A key judicial insight and precedent is the argument that future amendments cannot be such as to impair or subvert the intent of the original legislation to create an autonomous institution.
As such, the judgment has privileged the “fundamental spirit” of the original legislation over the details. This is similar to the distinction made between the fundamental rights in the constitution over the other clauses, thus barring any constitutional amendment, that would violate the fundamental rights. An important implication of this is to guide future governments in regard to legislative amendments in such matters.
2) The IHC also examined the mala fides of the ordinances and consequent legislation and guided on the proper manner in which such matters ought to be debated and reviewed before being converted into legislation, regardless of whether it is in the form of an ordinance or a bill of parliament.
Consider this together with the March 10 verdict of the Supreme Court of Pakistan that issuing ordinances without emergency situations (such as the ones regarding the HEC and electronic voting machines) is a violation of the constitution. That does not bode well for any of the two amendments to the HEC Ordinance rushed through last year or the third one that is in the works.
3) Finally, the IHC did not ignore the elephant in the room – the issue of conflict of interest, accountability, and transparency, and their relationship with the impugned legislation – and directed the government generally, and the prime minister particularly, to ensure that this does not happen in the future, and that the HEC should be protected against such elements rather than placed at their mercy.
In this regard, the judgment explicitly names Dr Atta Ur Rehman, chairman of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Science & Technology, and dedicates paragraphs 5 and 19 to his role in the matter. The verdict declares Dr Atta’s role in the process “significant” and “obvious from the record that he appears to have been affected by the policies of the HEC and the resistance is affirmed from the correspondence.”
The policy in question is “regarding audit and scrutiny relating to performance evaluation of those institutions” which had received public funds. Amongst the institutions that had received major funding included those of which the chairman of the PM’s Task Force was a patron – like the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences.
In its conclusion in para 19, the verdict states that the court “cannot turn a blind eye to the factor of conflict of interest of the chairman, PM’s Task Force.” It goes on to say that the “Prime minister will ensure that the HEC undertakes an independent, transparent and fair audit and evaluation of the institutes/centres wherein the chairman PM’s Task Force has an interest, and which have received substantial funding from the public exchequer” and “will restrain the chairman, PM’s Task Force from interfering or in any other manner whatsoever dealing with the affairs of the HEC.”
To borrow from Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars): I feel a great disturbance in the (task) Force!
While this petition has been playing out, the same team that brought the amendments to the HEC Ordinance has been busy stacking the deck of HEC commission members and stripping the chairman HEC of authority. A few days ago, Dr A H Nayyer and others filed a petition before the IHC to challenge the appointment of Dr Atta Ur Rehman and other members of the HEC, because they effectively make the chairman HEC redundant.
At some point people need to ask themselves, why is it that anytime public funds are dispensed somewhere, we see the same characters gravitating towards them, like a moth to a flame, like sharks to blood? For instance, take the Pak-University of Engineering and Technology (PUEET). The PUEET was to be established in the PM House as a publicity stunt for the masses. It began with the idea of establishing a technology research centre in the PM House at a cost of Rs 0.7 billion.
Then the same individual at the centre of the current HEC controversy involved himself and the project blew up to a university to be established at a staggering cost of Rs45 billion, a 64 times increase! For reference, the entire development budget of the HEC for the current fiscal year is Rs30 billion.
In other words, all other universities taken together receive Rs30 billion (per year). When this was deemed excessive, like a carpet seller at Islamabad’s Itwar bazaar, the demand was quickly dropped to Rs35 billion, and then further down to Rs25 billion.
Fortunately, since then, on March 15, a Senate committee rejected the ‘Pak University of Engineering and Technology Bill 2022.’ Committee members expressed reservations over the practicality of establishing a university, which would necessitate public access, in Islamabad’s Red Zone at the cost of billions while many public universities are struggling to meet their salary obligations. Out of more than 220 universities in the country, the twin-cities area already hosts 34 universities, out of which ICT-proper alone hosts 24.
At this point it is worth pondering: For the last few years, we have been hearing about how bureaucracy has been paralysed by fear of prosecution at the hands of NAB. Yet, we continue to see creative, even daring, interpretations of rules and laws.
This is not possible without people inside the bureaucracy lending a hand, giving ideas, developing (half-baked) arguments and drafting orders and notifications. These people are enablers of politicians’ and political appointees’ worst instincts. I predict that when made to answer for these misadventures, these people will conveniently step aside with the defence that they were “just following orders.”
The alternative to rolling over and doing a superior’s illegal bidding was on display in Washington on October 20, 1973 during the Watergate scandal in what is now known as the Saturday Night Massacre.
US President Nixon ordered his attorney general, Elliot Richardson, to fire the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox. The attorney general refused and resigned, rather than comply. Nixon then ordered the deputy attorney general to fire Cox but he also refused and resigned. It was the solicitor general, the third-most senior official at the Department of Justice, who finally complied with the president’s orders. The public backlash was fierce and immediate.
That is in stark contrast to our bureaucracy and the bureaucracy at the HEC, who are too happy to comply if it means saving their skin (principles, right or wrong be damned) and making them beneficiaries of scraps from the tables of power.
The writer (she/her) has a PhD in education.
Originally published in The News
Sham Idrees announces break in his marriage with Froggy
YouTube’s famous couple Sham Idrees and Froggy aka Sehar are taking sometime away from each other in their relationship.
Sham, taking it to his Instagram, left his fans in a shock after announcing his separation with Froggy. He wrote: “I would like to announce that me and froggy are taking sometime away from each other in our relationship. Please don’t involve me in issues concerning froggy, rabil or any of the other family members. I appreciate some privacy during this difficult time.”
Sham is a Canadian based YouTuber, who has a following of 1.4 million people on Instagram, is widely-known for his entertaining content. His videos often feature his wife Sehar along with him.
The couple tied the knot a few years ago and is parents to baby Sierra who is two-years old. The duo welcomed another daughter on September 28, 2022. They named her Shanaya Idrees.
After the birth of his first daughter, Sham Idrees also introduced his fans to his daughter Dua from his previous marriage.
Massive power breakdown hits Pakistan
- Minister says power generation units are temporarily shut in winter at night.
- Says frequency variation in national grid triggered outage.
- Says ministry trying to restore power in next 12 hours.
LAHORE/KARACHI/QUETTA/ISLAMABAD: A countrywide power breakdown, triggered by a “frequency variation” in the national grid early Monday morning, has left large parts of the country including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta without electricity.
Power Minister Khurrum Dastagir, while talking to Geo News, said that the power generation units are temporarily shut down in winter at night as an economic measure to save fuel costs.
“When the systems were turned on at 7:30am this morning one by one, frequency variation was reported in the southern part of the country between Jamshoro and Dadu. There was a fluctuation in voltage and power generating units were shut down one by one due to cascading impact. This is not a major crisis,” said the federal minister as the country plunged into darkness for the second time in four months.
The minister said that his ministry has started restoring some grid stations in Tarbela and Warsak.
“Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO) and some grids of Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO) have already been restored,” claimed the minister.
Talking about the breakdown in Karachi, the minister said that the matter in the port city is complicated as it has a complete electric supply system.
“We provide K-Electric about 1,000-1,100 megawatts routinely, however, it will be restored within a few hours. It is not certain how long will it take to sort this issue. However, my target is to restore electricity in the country in the next 12 hours,” said the minister.
Before the energy ministry’s announcement, different power distribution companies had confirmed the breakdown.
According to Quetta Electric Supply Company (QESCO), the two transmission lines have tripped leaving 22 districts of Balochistan, including Quetta without power.
Karachi power update
Meanwhile, K-Electric spokesperson Imran Rana said that at approximately 7:34am today, the national grid experienced a loss of frequency, affecting the power supply to multiple cities across Pakistan
“This has also cascaded to KE’s network affecting power supply to Karachi,” Rana said, adding the KE’s network is safe and protected.
“Our teams are actively monitoring the situation and enabling restoration efforts.”
An IESCO spokesperson said that its 117 grid stations were without electricity.
Meanwhile, PESCO also confirmed the outage in areas where it supplies electricity.
This is the second time within four months that a country was hit by a major power breakdown.
NEPRA takes notice
The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), in a statement, said that it has taken “serious notice” of the power outage and directed the National Transmission & Despatch Company (NTDC) to submit a “detailed report”.
The statement also said that the regulator has previously imposed fines on similar outages in the 2021 and 2022. It also shared that NEPRA has consistently issued directives and recommendations on tackling such events in future.
In October of last year, Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Quetta, Multan, and Faisalabad were hit by a power outage.
At that time, the power minister said that nearly 8,000 megawatts of power went offline.
Back then, Dastagir had said that the simultaneous faults in two power lines, which had triggered the breakdown, at the same time was concerning for the government. He had also announced that an in-depth inquiry was ordered and promised action.
A timeline of power breakdowns in Pakistan
The country’s generation and distribution network has suffered eight major power breakdowns during the last nine years.
In 2014 and 2017, nationwide blackouts were caused by a fault in Tarbela Power Station while fog, frequency variation and the Guddu Power Plant fault were blamed for breakdowns in 2015, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022 and 2023.
Every time the party in power announced to conduct a comprehensive probe and vowed to rectify the issues but nothing has happened despite multiple inquiries.
Punjab ordered to issue divorce certificates to non-Muslims
- Lahore High Court directs provincial authority to frame rules within 90 days.
- Petitioner says issue is faced by many members of Christian community.
- NADRA’s Registration Policy allows change of marital status on basis of affidavit.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) Wednesday directed the Punjab government to frame, within 90 days, rules under which union councils would issue divorce certificates to members of Christian and other non-Muslim communities in Pakistan.
In many parts of the country, the divorce certificates are not issued to non-Muslims by union councils that instead claimed such certificates were “not issued to the Christian community.” This is an issue for members of the said community because, without a divorce certificate, they cannot request the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to update their marital status while applying for the renewal of their identity cards.
The matter was brought to the attention of the LHC during the case Shumaila Sharif vs the secretary union council etc.
The petitioner in her appeal requested that the court is a writ of Mandamus — an order from a court to an inferior government official ordering the government official to properly — against the relevant union council and direct it to issue her the divorce certificate.
The case proceedings
The petition was heard on December 16 last year and the presiding judge was Judge Tariq Saleem Sheikh.
During the proceedings, the counsel of the petitioner, Advocate Umar Saeed, said that the issue was faced by several people in the Christian community and was not a one-off incident.
Citing Section 33 (1)(j) of the Punjab Local Government Act 2022 (PLGA 2022) — which mandates that union councils ensure registration of births, deaths, marriages and divorces for all the communities without discrimination — and Article 36 of the Constitution, which expressly requires the state to protect the minorities’ legitimate rights and interests, the counsel argued that by refusing to issue the requisite certificate, the council was failing to fulfil its legal duty.
Additionally, Advocate Kashif Alexander, the court’s amicus curiae on the matter, contended that obtaining a divorce certificate is a legal right that cannot be denied.
Together the two emphasise that while the Constitution of Pakistan (1973) does not explicitly guarantee the right to identity, Article 9 (right to life) and Article 14 (dignity of man) safeguard that right. Therefore, any citizen whose marital status changes due to the dissolution of marriage by divorce has a fundamental right to obtain a divorce certificate from the competent authority and then have their CNIC updated/revised.
The Additional Advocate General has little to defend the respondents and said that the provincial government was taking steps to address the complaints of the Christian community regarding the non-issuance of divorce certificates.
During the proceedings, it was brought to the court’s attention that NADRA’s Registration Policy dated 06.04.2021 (Version 5.0.2) allowed a change of marital status of a divorcee on the basis of an affidavit in the prescribed form.
In light of this, the court directed that until the provincial government framed the requisite rules needed for the issuance of the divorce certificate by the union council, NADRA shall accommodate the Christian community in accordance with the Registration Policy 19.
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