KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday ordered AD Khowaja to continue functioning as the provincial police chief till the end of his due term, ending the legal battle between civil society activists and the Sindh government over the former’s posting.
The court also restored Khowaja’s powers of transfers and postings within the police department and declared all appointments and postings made in the department by the provincial government after July 7, as illegal.
A two-judge SHC bench, headed by Justice Muneeb Akhtar, had reserved its decision in the case challenging Khowaja’s removal on May 30.
The court, on April 3, had dismissed the Sindh government’s decision to remove Khowaja after a group of civil society activists moved the SHC challenging his controversial removal.
The judges observed that the complete command of the provincial police remains with the IG and that anyone found taking orders from elsewhere may be proceeded against by the police chief. Moreover, in its verdict, the court directed the federal government to draft rules regarding the tenure and appointment of the IG.
The court termed farcical the “rapid turnover in, and bewildering rapidity with which, postings and transfers are made in the police force at all levels” and observed that this is wholly inimical to the stability of, and any meaningful performance by, the police. The judgment also presses for an end to “outside interference, whether by the provincial government or any body or authority thereof or otherwise (including any minister of any rank)..”.
With regards to the sidelining of Khowaja, the court held that any attempt to sideline or marginalise the IG or circumvent him or to otherwise curtail his powers would be contrary to law.
“It could, among other things, expose any police officer concerned to appropriate disciplinary or other proceedings, whether by way of misconduct or otherwise,” the court observed, stating additionally that the command structure of the police hierarchy is clear: It flows from, to and through the IG. “There can be no autonomy of command, nor independence of operation without this.”
The court also declared that the Sindh (Repeal of the Police Order, 2002 and Revival of the Police Act, 1861) Act, 2011 is intra vires the Constitution, and that therefore the Police Act, 1861, as revived and restored by the said act is the law in force in the province and not the Police Order, 2002.
Concluding its judgment, the court observed that police reforms are an ongoing exercise and may be touched upon later in other petitions.
“However, even if this judgment proves to be but one link in that chain, it is hopefully a step in the right direction (if we may mix metaphors a bit).”
The petitioners, which included Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education and Research head Karamat Ali and singer/activist Shahzad Roy, were represented by Advocate Faisal Siddiqui.
Talking to reporters after the verdict, Advocate Siddiqui said the SHC decision is the first step towards reforming the provincial police department. However, Sindh Additional Advocate General Mustafa Mahesar has said that the government will challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court after consultation.
The Sindh government had removed Khowaja in April and replaced him with Sardar Abdul Majeed Dasti, a Grade 21 officer already posted in the province, without consulting the federal government.
The Sindh government had said it was “surrendering” Khowaja’s services to the federal government and appointed Additional IG Dasti as the IGP till “appointment/posting of [a] regular incumbent by the Establishment Division”. However, the SHC on April 3 suspended the provincial government’s notification for Khowaja’s removal.
In one of the hearings, Khowaja had offered to leave his post, saying his job had become increasingly difficult under the present circumstances. But, the court refused to let the IG relinquish his post and maintained its stay on his removal till the case was being heard.
Earlier in December 2016, the IGP was sent on “forced leave” by the provincial government.
Civil rights campaigners moved the SHC against the decision and subsequently the court restrained the Sindh government from sending him on forced leave.
According to the petitioners, the IGP was sent on a “forced leave” on Dec 19 because the Sindh government was “unhappy” with him over several issues relating to the recruitment of constables and suspension of police officers.
Khowaja’s differences with senior leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party on issues relating to the removal/posting of police officials before by-elections in some constituencies, his stance on a businessman said to be a close associate of PPP leader Asif Zardari and recruitment in the police department are no secret.
Born in a family of traders in Tando Mohammad Khan, Khowaja had assumed charge as IGP in March 2016 after the removal of then IGP Ghulam Hyder Jamali, who was facing a National Accountability Bureau investigation into mismanagement of police funds.