Daily Times Editorial 26 September 2019

Act of God or wake-up call?


Tuesday’s magnitude 5.8 earthquake left a trail of death and destruction in Mirpur district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and a warning for other parts of the country that preparedness for such acts of God should never be ruled out. Remember this one was a moderate jolt, slightly short of a big one, and 30 people have died and around 400 others are injured, many of them seriously. We pray for the quick recovery of the injured ones. According to the US Geological Survey, the shallow quake hit 22.3 kilometres north of Jhelum, and was 10 kilometres in depth. The tremor jolted parts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The casualties and injuries took place due to the collapse of buildings and road accidents and most of them were preventable had building bylaws been our priority. Hundreds of houses collapsed in Mirpur region since the epicentre of the earthquake was on the left bank of the River Jhelum in Mirpur. It ripped apart roads and uprooted power and telecom towers, disrupting communication. As a result, several injured people died due to wastage of precious time as they could not be shifted to hospitals in time.
The earthquake is a test for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which was made after the deadly October 8 seismic disaster struck the same northern parts of Pakistan in 2005. NDMA Chairman Lt-Gen Mohammad Afzal, however, says that the situation is under control and within hours, a large scale rescue operation was launched. The authority might be assessing the damages for ensuing relief and rehabilitation operations, and in this time of test and trial, the whole nation must stand by the government. A state of emergency has already been declared in Mirpur, and volunteers are required, the authority must establish liaison with the civil government. According to the Inter-Services Public Relations, the army chief has dispatched troops as well as medical support teams to Mirpur for rescue operations and to help the civil administration.
Coming back to the preparedness for calamities, the first thing should be bracing for the likely aftershocks in next days and three to four months. A large scale building damage assessment activity should be launched as the earthquake has left many buildings tilted and cracked. The departments of fire control and medical emergencies should be reorganised. Awareness drills for people on what-to-do during and after shocks would be helpful to minimise losses in case the calamity strikes again. A comprehensive plan for rehabilitation, recovery and restoration of normalcy in the quack-hit areas should reach all the affected people.
This moderate earthquake was a wakeup call for us about the preparedness for natural disasters. *



UK Supreme Court’s landmark decision


The ruling by the UK Supreme Court nullifying the suspension of parliament by Prime Minister Boris Johnson is instructive for both sides of the Brexit debate. The Remainers will read it as a proof of Boris Johnson’s betrayal to the constitution while the Leavers will take it as a political decision undermining the authority of the prime minister. The 11 judges’ unanimous decision declared that the suspension of parliament, no matter what the circumstances, is abuse of power to silence parliamentarians on critical issues. Boris Johnson suspended parliament to proceed with his Brexit plan without any interference from hostile law makers. The ruling vouches for the fact that in no way can the prime minister bypass parliament or mislead them by taking the benefit of constitutional terms. The verdict will go a long way in establishing the writ of the parliament and any future prime minister will think twice before suspending or bypassing it. This is what proud democracies do even in the most pressing times. Of course, Brexit presents the biggest constitutional shakeup in the UK and there are divergent views on it inside and outside parliament, but under no circumstances should the suspension of the house be allowed.
The ruling also states that a prime minister should not exercise power against the will of the people. No individual should hold absolute power and parliamentarians are elected to take decisions after debates. In no way should parliament be bypassed to further any agenda. Some people may take the judgement as anti-parliament because it undermines the authority of the prime minister. That is not true. In fact, the ruling strengthens parliament.
What lessons can be drawn from the UK Supreme Court for our judiciary, prime minister and parliament?
One, in no way is a court empowered to justify the suspension of parliament. Two, no matter what the circumstances, a prime minister cannot act as an individual as their core powers stem from parliament, and that means the house should remain supreme. Three, parliamentarians should strengthen parliament and represent the will of the people instead of following their personal agendas. That is the only way to go along democratic lines. *

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