After Rehman Malik gave Nadra the job, battle lands in court
By: Saba Imtiaz
KARACHI: A battle over arms licenses has landed in court with Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s name at the centre of the controversy. Billions of rupees are involved. Thirty-eight people have filed a petition, saying that the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) is in contempt for not following court orders: It is still issuing licenses even though the Sindh High Court ruled on July 25 that it had to stop.
The history of the case
Last year, Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced that all licenses issued by his ministry had been cancelled and that people had to reapply for the new cards through NADRA. NADRA dutifully advertised that it was revalidating all licenses (made before January 1, 2011) and replacing them with computerised ones.
This work was supposed to be done from August 29 to September 30, 2011 and was not applicable to licenses issued by provincial governments. Soon after, the litigants – 37 from Karachi and one from Kot Ghulam Mohammad, Tharparkar – took NADRA to court for issuing licenses, which they feel it does not have the legal authority to do.
Almost a year later, on July 25, 2012, the Sindh High Court ruled that this entire exercise was illegal and that NADRA did indeed not have the authority to issue licenses. They were invalid.
Where the case stands today
The problem is that the petitioners say that NADRA is still reportedly issuing licenses – including one for a Kalashnikov. On Thursday morning, the contempt petition was heard by Sindh High Court Chief Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Syed Mohammad Farooq Shah.
The petitioners’ lawyer Syed Mohammad Yahya has argued that the issue is of public importance because of the billions of rupees are involved in license fees as well as renewals. “The licenses were deposited [with the authorities] in December and the holders only have a receipt which NADRA issued,” he told The Express Tribune.
The petition states that “the respondents (NADRA and the interior ministry) have been continuously indulging in deliberate contempt of court” by not returning the original arms licenses people surrendered at NADRA centres. NADRA and the ministry have not refunded the millions of rupees they have collected as fees to re-issue the licenses.
Moreover, Yahya believes that the issue is a “serious threat” to the state of law and order in Karachi. “It is directly related to the verdict of the Supreme Court,” he said referring to the suo motu notice it took of the situation in Karachi last year. “I reminded the Sindh High Court chief justice that he was responsible for implementing the verdict,” Yahya said.
In its verdict, the Supreme Court had observed “that Karachi is full of arms and ammunition of prohibited and non-prohibited bores, including licensed and illicit [ones], therefore, Karachi has to be cleansed from all kinds of weapons by adhering to the laws available on the subject, and if need be, by promulgating new legislation.” According to some estimates Karachi has two million unlicensed weapons and 500,000 licensed ones. “All licensed arms genuinely required for security concerns and personal safety may be retained but these must also be registered with NADRA,” added the SC in its order. The police force is trying these days to buy a Rs30 million ballistics record system to make matches and improve investigations. Computerising licenses is just a part of this picture.
Legally, Yahya says, the legislation governing NADRA (the National Database and Registration Authority Ordinance, 2000) does not state that it can issue licenses, and this is in violation of existing laws.
The lawyer for NADRA reportedly told the court that it was filing an appeal with the Supreme Court. This was rebuffed by Yahya, who said that this was an attempt to “mislead the court” because the records of the case were still with the high court and the lawyers had not filed a leave to appeal.
Yahya also authored a similar petition that was heard at the Lahore High Court, which he says issued a stay order on the issuance of arms licenses. “The verdict applies to the entire country,” he said.
The next hearing is scheduled within two weeks. The respondents are Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik, NADRA chairperson Tariq Malik and the Interior Secretary Siddiq Akbar Khawaja. According to the Yahya, since the lawyer for NADRA appeared in court, copies of the petition were given to him and the deputy attorney general and the contempt application was waived. The court had not issued its order in the case by the time of going to print so it was unclear which of the respondents would be issued notices, if at all.