By Shabbir Mir
Chief justice of Pakistan is in the field gathering funds for dams. After Diamer-Bhasha Dam, Justice Saqib Nisar has taken up Kalabagh Dam issue and is quite optimistic to achieve what has hitherto been a nightmare for various governments.
And to me, good news is the chief justice has started hearing cases pertaining to the area where Diamer-Bhasha Dam is constructed – the Gilgit-Baltistan or G-B. This has naturally raised expectations in G-B where people are wondering if the honourable chief justice will look into what the courts in this half-constitutional province have been up to.
The top court in Gilgit-Baltistan is Supreme Appellate Court, comprising three judges including the chief judge. Over the years the appellate court hasn’t been what a top court is supposed to be in terms of dispensation of justice and holding of transparency and merit supreme. Why is it that? Where is the fault? Does this needs to be looked into? We may get answers of some of the questions if we look at tenure of its last chief judge, justice (Retd) Rana Shamim who recently completed his three-year service.
The judge was 68 when he retired. This meant he was ineligible for pension as he had already crossed the upper age limit of 65 years. This was exactly what the accountant general of Pakistan revenue (AGPR) pointed out when justice Shamim applied for his pension. But then the AGPR gave in to pressure, says G-B Bar Council Vice Chairman Javed Ahmed advocate. “The judge was however released pension worth Rs67,000,000, (6 crore 70 lac). It was illegal.”
In his three-year term, the top judge of G-B appointed about 50 staff in the different positions, of which about 36 were from outside of G-B. If it wasn’t enough, the process adopted for the appointment of the remaining 14 candidates also lacked transparency as was pointed out by Bar Council in a press conference and later through a whitepaper. The hiring came in sheer violation of G-B legislative assembly resolution that strictly called for appointment of locals in the apex court.
Similarly, in a construction work in court, the cost surprisingly jumped from 90 million to 290 million, raising many eyebrows in government.
“This isn’t the end of the story,” an insider privy to the developments told The Gilgit. “Justice Shamim’s children residing outside of G-B were also benefiting from father’s official position as he had provided each of his four children with official cars, drivers, fuel and cooks,” said the source whose privacy of course will not be disclosed.
And for the chief judge and those in his good books, everything meant for the office was for their luxury. The vehicles, drivers, guards, residential houses, cooks and so on. The vehicles, numbering over 40 in the apex court, cost about Rs7 million on account of fuel and maintenance this year. Following the chief judge, next beneficiary was his secretary Usman Bashir Janjua, who had several luxury vehicles at his disposal, not to mention other facilities. Janjua’s promotion as secretary in grade 20 also raised many eyebrows as he lacked education and experience mandatory for the position. On the top of it, using his authority Janjua obtained G-B’s domicile.
Janjua wouldn’t miss a chance to visit his home in Rawalpindi on weekends, claiming hefty allowances for travel and food. Those familiar with Janjua wondered how he managed to get such senior position in judiciary given that he was sentenced to jail on account of forgery in the name of former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Back in justice Raja Jalal tenure, the secretary had faced contempt of court for defying his orders over vacation of official house. He was however pardoned following his submission of unconditional apology to the judge. The secretary would also keep arms in his office though he had the facility of police guards even inside the court premises. The staff believed “the purpose of keeping weapons was to keep the staff under psychological pressure so they don’t raise voice against his highhandedness.”
The story doesn’t end here. The existing registrar’s credentials for position he holds are also dubious. But that didn’t matter as long as he stayed obedient. He obtained extension in service well before being retired.
While some enjoyed luxuries, others were subjected to maltreatment in the house of justice. Ibrahim Shahid, Malik Israr and Afzal Ahmed were a few to name. Israr, a grade 16 officer in account section in the same court, was forced to resign after his grade was lowered to grade 9. His demotion was made without serving him any written notice. Certainly he wasn’t given a right to appeal. Likewise Ibrahim Shahid, an assistant registrar in grade 18, was summarily terminated by then chief judge justice Nawaz Abbasi in 2012, in sheer disregards to rules. While his petition is pending in the court, Shahid has never been provided a chance to plead his case. Similar treatment was meted out to Afzal Ahmed who was a protocol officer in the court. The man was forced to go unceremoniously.
On the face of it, judiciary in G-B isn’t answerable to anyone, at least for now.
In the backdrop of chief justice of Pakistan’s visit to this region in summer, and his encouraging remarks thereafter one should expect he does justice to the people he refers to as ‘more Pakistani than anybody else’ in the country.