LAHORE: The Punjab government on Friday notified a ban over indoor marriage ceremonies and public gatherings across the province amid the second wave of coronavirus pandemic.

According to the notification issued, there would be a ban on holding indoor marriage ceremony from November 20 (today) until January 31. The marriage ceremonies and other public gatherings can be held in open places.

Not more than 300 persons would be allowed to attend ceremonies, the notification reads and directs to ensure implementation of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to contain deadly virus spread.

Wearing facemasks at public places has been declared mandatory.

On November 6, the NCOC placed a ban on gatherings at wedding halls. However, it allowed people to hold weddings in open spaces with strict compliance with the SOPs.

On Wednesday, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) disposed of a petition challenging the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) decision of imposing a ban on indoor marriages saying that it would not ‘interfere’ in this matter.

A single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice Athar Minallah conducted hearing of the petition filed by Islamabad Marquees, Catering and Banquet Hall Association (IMCBA) through its chairman Mukhtar Abbas.

In its verdict, the IHC bench declared that this court is not inclined to interfere with the decisions of the Committee because it could expose the public at large to irreparable harm.

During the hearing, Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Javed Khan who is also one of NCOC members appeared before the court and submitted a written report and attached therewith a copy of the minutes of the 19th meeting of the National Coordination Committee on Covid-19 held on November 16.

In response to a query, the Attorney General informed that the Committee is headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan and, inter-alia, includes the chief ministers of the respective provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan Region and the Prime Minister of the Government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The Committee has been constituted to take decisions regarding the challenges that stem in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee is assisted by experts from across the country and the decisions are based on their expert advice and the NCOC has been established to implement the decisions of the Committee.

Justice Athar noted in the verdict that the existence of the human species has been threatened by the unknown and mysterious deadly virus which causes COVID-19. It has spread across the globe and has profoundly affected millions of humans in almost every country. The most powerful and scientifically advanced states have also been unable to protect their citizens from the harm of this deadly pandemic.

“The deadly pandemic has become a reality and no one is immune of its devastating harm. Every citizen ought to realise that he or she, as the case may be, could be the next victim if its spread is not contained. The human and economic cost of this deadly pandemic is unimaginable. Though it does not show mercy to any particular class but the worst affected are the weaker and marginalised segments of the society i.e. the daily wagers and others who are employed in the informal sectors of the economy,” mentioned the IHC Chief Justice.

He added that in Pakistan a second wave is spreading rapidly, which is reported to be more severe and deadlier than the previous. The Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court, Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth was amongst many who have fallen victim to the deadly virus. The nation has already suffered irreparably and the life of every unaffected individual matters.

According to the judgment, the measures and decisions taken by the Committee and its implementation are related to the right to life of every citizen and guaranteed under Article 9 of the Constitution.

Justice Athar said that it is a challenge, not only for the government but every citizen, to contain the spread of the second wave of the pandemic. It is not a choice but a duty of the citizens to contribute towards this national goal. The freedom of an individual and rights are subservient to the interests and rights of the public at large. The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights but simultaneously contemplates corresponding duties. It is the duty of every citizen not to infringe the constitutionally guaranteed rights of others.

He maintained that the constitution of the Committee has a national character and thus its decisions are not only to be trusted and respected but treated as binding. It is the duty of the NCOC to ensure implementation of the decisions of the Committee. The decisions taken in the 19th meeting held on 16.11.2020, appear to be reasonable and thus binding.

He further said that even otherwise, it is settled law that courts exercise restraint in matters of government policies except when it can be shown that fundamental rights have been violated. Policy making is within the exclusive domain of the executive and interference in such domain is not the function of this Court.

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