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When Opposition Fails At Its Job, Judges Scrutinise Govt

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Umer Farooq argues that in the absence of a responsible opposition, judges are once again practicing judicial activism by reprimanding the government officials over their mismanagement. 

In the absence of a functioning opposition in the parliament, it seems the role to criticise and scrutinise the performance of the government ministers and state institutions now is assumed by the judges of the superior courts.

Whether it is the maladministration and financial irregularities in the government departments, or the highhandedness of the state institutions in dealing with the acts of political dissent, it is the judges who are taking the lead in scrutinising the performance of the PTI government.

Opposition is simply missing from the scene—rather it would not be an exaggeration to say that there is no functioning opposition in Pakistani parliament at present.

In a functioning parliamentary democracy, the role of the opposition is taken as seriously as that of the government—in fact the opposition is perceived as shadow government. It criticises and scrutinises the functioning and performance of the government departments, ministries and other state institutions. All this makes the parliamentary democracy a vibrant system that rely as much on government’s performance as on the opposition’s role as a scrutiniser of the government’s performance.

The dsyfunctionality of the whole political system could be judged by the fact that parliamentary opposition is simply missing from the scene—and it is rather the judges of the superior courts who are performing the function of scrutinizing government departments, ministries and other state institutions.

Take the example of Chief Justice Gulzar criticising the performance of Railway Ministry Sheikh Rasheed recently, during hearing of a case. During the hearing, the chief justice expressed annoyance over the Pakistan Railway’s performance. He said the entire department is politicised and nothing is functioning properly.

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Without naming Sheikh Rashid, the chief justice observed that a person should first travel by train before taking charge of the ministry.

“The stations and railway tracks are not in order. Every passenger travelling by train is in danger and not feeling secure. The freight trains are also not operating. The world is using bullet trains but we are still operating antiquated railways,” he noted.

Another member of bench, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, said the audit report about the PR revealed losses to the tune of billions of rupees. The bench also questioned why the PR record is not being computerised.

Tkhis kind of criticism of the government department and ministries usually come from the opposition in the parliament when the national assembly or senate is reviewing the performance of government ministries or the audit reports are presented before the committees of the house or before the house itself.

It seems that the opposition has simply abdicated its role as a scrutiniser of the government—the opposition and its leaders are simply happy to make behind the scene deals with the powers that be, to fly out of the country. They are simply incapable or not interested in criticising the performance of the government.

On the other hand the judges of the superior courts, traditionally and historically, had stayed clear of coming to be seen as incumbents political opponents and that was why they used to avoid criticizing the government in such a blunt manner.

However, in the wake of judges’ restoration after lawyers’ movement Pakistani superior courts have changed course and decided to scrutinise the performance of the governments quite openly. During the last 12 years, it was only during the brief period of Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa that the Supreme Court desisted from getting engaged in scrutinising the government performance. Justice Gulzar tenure comes immediate after Justice Khosa’s so it likely that the Supreme Court will once again assume an activists role in the political system of the country.

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But the Pakistani judiciary’s tradition of taking the highhandedness of state machinery head on during the military governments. The judges, who provided relief to those under state’s wrath, are rare in Pakistani history, but they, nevertheless, made big names in history.

Justice Athar Minallah of Islamabad High Court just made history by granting bail to the political activists who protested against the highhandedness of the state machinery.

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