–Court says minister should have resigned after Tezgam incident, gives him two weeks to submit business plan
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday expressed displeasure with Federal Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed’s poor management of the organisation, and directed him to submit in court a business plan to uplift Pakistan Railways from its current “deplorable” condition within two weeks.
While hearing a case pertaining to losses incurred by railways, a three-member bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah asked Rasheed to inform the court about the Tezgam train inferno in October 2019 that had killed 73 passengers. The incident apparently occurred when a gas cylinder brought by one of the travelers had exploded.
“You should have submitted your resignation,” said the chief justice, in response to which Rasheed said that 75 people had been dismissed after the tragic incident.
“Yesterday [Monday] we were told that two people were fired. You fired lower-level employees, when will the higher-ranking ones be [dismissed]?” asked Justice Ahmed.
“We will also remove senior employees,” said Rasheed in response.
“We do not see this happening, you are the highest-ranking employee,” remarked the chief justice, adding: “Minister Sahib don’t show people dreams, today you are running 18th-century railways. There is plundering in the railways department.”
In response, the federal minister said he had been working 18 hours a day and had increased railways’ passengers by seven million.
The railway minister implored that the only solution to problems faced by Pakistan Railways is the ML-1 project which is a 14-year-old project, but has not yet been executed.
Rasheed pleaded the apex court for more time adding that he would resign if he does not meet the required standards.
The chief justice said that ML-1 is not a “conjuring trick” which would fix everything. He stressed that the entire department is politicized and nothing is functioning properly.
“The stations and railway tracks are not in order. The freight trains are also not operating,” CJP remarked. Officers are inducted after taking bribes.”
“Even in 2020, your entire system is being run on parchis (favors),” the chief justice remarked.
A day earlier, the apex court had observed that no department in the country was more corrupt than Pakistan Railways and summoned Rasheed, Federal Railways Secretary Habib-ur-Rehman Gilani and its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Aijaz Ahmad Buriro to answer the court’s questions.
During Tuesday’s proceedings, the chief justice said: “Yes, Sahib [Rasheed], tell us what you are doing. Your whole story is in front of us. The railways will not function under your administration.”
Additionally, the court said ideally revenue from railways should take the ministry out of debt and make it profitable. The three-judge bench asked Rasheed to present a business plan in the next hearing, adding that if there was any deviation from the plan presented in court, action will be taken.
“Being a seasoned politician, your performance should have been the best among the others, but your institution is crumbling,” Justice Ahmed remarked.
The court also ordered that the six-kilometer portion of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) be completed in two weeks and instructed the Sindh government to provide all assistance on the project.
Adjourning proceedings till Feb 12, the court summoned the minister and the secretary of planning in the next hearing.
Speaking to reporters following the court hearing, Rasheed said he will take the railways forward “as per the instructions of the chief justice”.
The minister also clarified that the audit report referred to in the SC earlier was an audit report from 2013-17, adding that their report has not yet been released.
“When our audit report is released, then we are answerable. This is the audit report of the previous government,” he said.