The two-day India-Pakistan regional workshop on ‘Judicial Activism, Public Interest Litigation and Human Rights’ started on Tuesday with speeches by judicial activists, retired judges and renowned lawyers from both the countries.
Justice (retd) AK Ganguly from India and Justice (retd) Rashid A Razvi from Pakistan gave detailed overview of constitutional and judicial systems in their respective countries and discussed the status of public interest litigation and constraints at judicial level. Senior Indian lawyer Colin Gonsalves, Mukul Sinha Advocate, Nijhari Sinha Advocate, Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, Faisal Siddiqui and others spoke on the occasion.
Ganguly in his speech gave examples of revolutionary changes brought in public interest cases in different countries of South Asia. Justice Razvi cited examples of prominent judgments and amendments in the Pakistan judiciary to understand the public interest activism within judiciary and impacts of increasing religion extremism.
Razvi also criticised military adventurism, which has badly affected the judicial system. He lauded the role of lawyers and other civil society activists in Pakistan for restoration of the judiciary. After restoration of judiciary in 2009, he said, the country witnessed that the cases of missing persons and bonded labour were taken up by judiciary, which provided an important forum to the citizens, especially the marginalised people.
Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, talking about the India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners, said the Judicial Committee has helped the prisoners from both the sides by visiting jails in both the countries. There are 437 Indian prisoners in Malir Jail Karachi, out of which 284 are those who have completed their terms. They are still in jails because of bureaucratic hurdles, he added. It is a violation of Constitutions of both India and Pakistan.
He said when he visited Indian prisons to meet Pakistani prisoners to confirm their nationality it took few minutes, but the bureaucracy have been languishing in jails for years. He urged the judiciary members to play their role and make the process easy in the public interest.
The lawyers' couple Mukul Sinha Advocate and his wife Nijhari Sinha Advocate gave a joint presentation on ‘Judicial intervention in cases of communal conflicts’ in India. If there is any party wanting to get votes of minority, the counter political parties use majority votes and in this way communal conflict rises, they said. In this situation it depends on active judiciary how it should play role to avoid communal conflicts and resolve the issue of minority, they concluded.
Advocate from India Colin Gonsalves said there are revolutionary changes in laws and public interest cases are being taken. According to him developed countries, even Europe and US cannot understand the public interest cases, but in developing countries the situation is different.
“In India 40 percent people earn bellow PKR 100 a day. Due to this there is malnutrition and poverty,” he said. He said a court can give orders, but it cannot implement it. It is the responsibility of state to implement the orders. Tracing the history, he said there was a tradition that prisoners used to write letter to courts and judges would turn the same letters into petitions for hearing to provide relief to the victims.
Gonsalves said World Trade Organisation (WTO), World Bank and multinational companies force the governments to breach their own laws just to safeguard the interests of such world organisations.
Apart from this private sector is being promoted in education, health sector and water. In this situation how can poor people survive as their children are even victims of malnourishment. He also opposed public-private partnership, terming it a dangerous trend for the marginalised people.
Prashant Bhushan advocate from India said judges are discouraged to take up suo moto related to PIL cases; the culture of suo moto in India is rare. He said there is a need of systematic changes to protect rights of citizens. It was observed that police was put under the power of political ministers, using them for their interests instead of allowing police to safeguard the rights of people.
When the government failed to make legislation the courts gave judgments but for the last seven years their orders are yet to be enforced. For instance, he said, the court issued orders for formation of state security commission, protecting right to food, right to education and right to basic health facilities.