A family travels on a motorcycle wearing face masks during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown, as a preventive measure to contain the coronavirus, in Karachi, Pakistan, on March 26, 2020. Image Credit: AP

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has dismissed a petition filed by owners of three and four-star hotels in the federal capital against conversion of their properties into quarantine centres for suspected cases of novel coronavirus.

The petitioner Sikandar Bashir in his plea filed on Friday had maintained that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had directed to establish a quarantine centre in a local hotel.

He argued that such a direction was beyond the NDMA’s authority and urged the court to intervene under Article 199.

“Why does the government not use any of their properties instead of private property,” Bashir argued, adding, “Who will come to this hotel after its transformation into a quarantine centre, why does the government not use the Prime Minister’s House as a quarantine centre instead of private property?”

During the hearing on the maintainability of the petition, the IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked the country was passing through extraordinary situation due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“The measures taken by the federal government and the authority are obviously to safeguard the public at large and their fundamental rights,” the chief justice observed.

“It is settled that the interest of the public at large prevails over individual rights,” he said.

In the written order the court observed, “It is in public interest not to exercise the jurisdiction because it will inevitably amount to interference with the measures taken by the authority and the federal government to meet the challenges that have arisen due to the extraordinary circumstances.”

“It cannot be ruled out that interference by this court with the decisions of the authority and the federal government, may risk jeopardising the interests of the public at large and their fundamental rights,” it further said.

“The government can even use my house,” the chief justice observed.

Noting that the counsel could not satisfy the court, the IHC chief justice said if the applicant believed the government’s move caused it a loss, it could claim damages later.

The private hotel’s lawyer said that the NDMA at least could tell the court what they wanted to do.

Chief Justice Minallah inquired whether the courts of any other country had interfered in the government’s affairs in such a situation.

To this, the petitioner’s lawyer pleaded ignorance over what was happening in other countries.

The court after reserving the order briefly dismissed the petition terming it not maintainable.