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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday turned down a petition seeking removal of Ghulam Sarwar Khan, federal minister for aviation, from the Cabinet, for making an "irresponsible speech", "damaging" for the airlines of the country.

A single bench of IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah heard the petition filed by Tariq Asad, and dismissed the same, after hearing the arguments.

The IHC bench noted in its order: "This court exercises restraint because intervention in the matter would amount to bypassing the scheme of accountability of a member of the Cabinet prescribed under the Constitution and undermine the principle of collective accountability of the Cabinet. The jurisdiction of this Court under Article 199 of the Constitution is discretionary and its exercise can be refused in appropriate cases."

Justice Minallah maintained, "Prime Minister and members of the cabinet will not hesitate in proceeding against a minister or the regulator, if the latter are found involved, in any manner, to have caused harm to the interests of the State or the reputation of professional pilots and the national flag carrier. In the circumstances this Court is not inclined to exercise the extra ordinary discretion vested under Article 199 of the Constitution and thus the petition is accordingly dismissed."

During the course of hearing, Tariq Asad contended that he was aggrieved because Ghulam Sarwar Khan, the federal minister for aviation division, made public statements regarding the alleged irregularities in certification and licensing of pilots by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

He contended that the statements were "factually incorrect" and "irresponsible". The petitioner asserted that because of the "irresponsible, unverified and factually flawed statements" made by one of the members of the federal cabinet, irretrievable loss has been suffered by the people of Pakistan, the national airline i.e. the Pakistan International Airline Corporation, and the reputation of those Pakistani citizens who are engaged in the profession as pilots.

Asad further asserted that the "irresponsible statements" of one of the members of the federal cabinet have led to suspension of the operations of the national airline abroad.

The petitioner sought multiple prayers including declaring respondent no.5 i.e. Ghulam Sarwar Khan, minister of aviation, as having become "disqualified" to hold the public office under Article 63 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973.

After hearing his arguments, the IHC bench stated in the judgment that it is the case of the petitioner that the statements regarding certification and licensing of professional pilots were factually flawed, defamatory and that they have led to consequences which have the effect of violating the fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan besides damaging the reputation of the national flag carrier and its pilots.

The IHC bench observed, "In the case in hand, there is no reason for this Court to doubt that the prime minister and other members of the Cabinet would not be aware of the sensitivity of the matter and its serious implications for the image of Pakistan, the reputation of professional pilots and the national carrier, which in the past was acknowledged as one of the best in the aviation industry worldwide."

"This Court would definitely not be justified to assume that the prime minister and members of the cabinet will ignore or fail to take appropriate action on the basis of the principle of collective responsibility, if the acts and omissions of respondent no.5 i.e. Ghulam Sarwar Khan, minister for aviation, are in any manner found to have harmed the reputation of the national flag carrier and the professional pilots licensed by CAA, whether rendering services in Pakistan or abroad," the bench said.

It said that moreover, it could also not be assumed that the Senate or the National Assembly would fail in its constitutional duty under sub-article (6) of Article 91 of the Constitution to hold a minister accountable.

It further said that the assertions stated in the memorandum of the instant petition and its consequences were indeed of a serious nature. Nonetheless, by intervening in the matter, this Court would be demonstrating its lack of trust in the accountability mechanism prescribed in the Constitution and the principle of collective responsibility of the Cabinet, which is the foundation of the parliamentary system of governance. The Senate, National Assembly, the prime minister of Pakistan and members of the Cabinet are not only empowered but it is their constitutional duty to hold a member accountable, if the latter is found to have violated his oath or his/her acts or omissions have prejudiced the interests of the people of Pakistan or the State.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020