IHC halts govt’s plan to block SIMs of non-filers

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) intervened on Tuesday, restraining the government from proceeding with its decision to block the SIM cards of non-filers.

Chief Justice Aamer Farooq of the IHC issued a stay order until May 27, following the court’s consideration of a petition filed by a mobile phone company challenging the government’s directive.

This development occurred shortly after the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and telecom operators reached an agreement to block SIMs of non-filers, as part of the government’s efforts to combat tax evasion and improve revenue amid challenging economic conditions.

The FBR announced that telecom companies would manually block SIMs in small batches until their systems were fully capable of automating the process. The initial batch, consisting of 5,000 non-filers, was communicated to the operators, with more batches to follow daily.

In response, telecom operators began sending notifications to non-filers regarding the impending SIM blockage for informational purposes.

Discussions between the FBR and telecom operators ensued as a deadlock emerged after the operators resisted implementing the FBR’s directive to block 500,000 SIMs of individuals not listed as active taxpayers but required to file income tax returns for the Tax Year 2023.

During the hearing, counsel for the petitioner, Salman Akram Raja, argued that the amendment to the law contradicted Article 18 of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom to conduct business. Raja emphasized that legislation cannot infringe upon fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

He further contended that the government lacked the authority to block mobile phone SIMs by amending the law, warning that blocking over 500,000 SIMs would result in an annual loss of Rs1 billion.

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