As Justice (retired) Maqbool Baqar settles into his role as Caretaker Chief Minister Sindh, let us have a look at his profile, past work, and the hopes tied to him.
Known to be a fair and competent Judge throughout his career, CCM Justice (r) Maqbool Baqar has remained steadfast even during difficult times including an attack on his life in 2013, in which he was critically injured while his driver lost his life.
Born 5th April 1957 in Karachi, CCM Justice (r) Baqar completed his LLB from University of Karachi and commenced his career as a lawyer in 1981. After being appointed Additional Judge of Sindh High Court in 2022, he was appointed Chief Justice of the honorable high court on 20th September 2013. He was elevated to the Supreme Court of Pakistan on 17th February 2015 and retired on 4th April 2022 as he turned 65.
CCM Justice (r) Baqar has seen several challenges during his illustrious career as a judge, and on 17th August 2023 was sworn in as the Caretaker Chief Minister, a role which comes with its own set of trials.
As judge he has had to hear many cases on environmental issues. From the construction by Karachi Port Trust causing environmental damages, to Bahria Town encroaching on forest land, and to mafias lifting sand and gravel from the riverbed, he has come across all forms issues of environmental degradation. And almost every time he has turned up in favor of an enviro-human-centric approach.
C.P. No.D-3673/2012 was a petition by Muhammed Siddiq, resident of Malir, regarding the lifting of raiti/bajri from various points of Karachi. During the proceedings CCM Justice (r) Baqar had strict commented that ‘in case any further complaint is received or it comes to the knowledge of the court by any means that still the courts orders are being flouted and raiti/bajri is being lifted and sold in Karachi illegally, stern orders shall be passed against the errand officers, which may include contempt of court proceedings and also criminal prosecution.’ He directed the then IG Sindh, ADIG, and Chief Secretary Government of Sindh to ensure implementation of the orders.
Similarly, when hearing pleas of beachgoers in Karachi regarding the construction of the Karachi Port Trust’s deep sea container port, the then SHC Chief Justice Maqbool Baqar had sought detailed comments from KPT explaining whether the construction of the port would have any repercussions on the ecology and environment or not.
Furthermore, as part of a three-member SC bench alongwith Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, and Justice Faisal Arab, Justice Baqar had heard a suo motu case pertaining to destruction of forests and illegal acquisition of lands by Bahria Town in Murree. The petition was regarding demarcation of property and the claim that Bahria Town was encroaching on forest land. During the hearing, the Supreme Court was apprised that about 400 trees were cut down in Murree hill resort by the housing society of Bahria Town. “It has to be seen whether these housing societies were affecting the master plan of Murree or not,” Justice Maqbool Baqar had noted. Justice Faisal Arab had also noted that the establishment of private housing societies in Murree had left negative impacts on the environment. He said if the ongoing pace of construction continued in Murree, the Murree of today will be quite different from that of the Murree that will emerge after 30 years.
In the past he has also heard cases on encroachment along the banks of stormwater drains in Karachi as well. In 2013 a bench, headed by Justice Maqbool Baqar, issued notices to the respondents of a petition on encroachment on rainwater drains to file their comments on the alleged illegal encroachment.
10 years on in 2023, Chief Minister Maqbool Baqar, in his maiden meeting with Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar Ali Haq Kakar, discussed the rehabilitation of citizens displaced to the stormwater drain anti-encroachment drive as well as those that were severely impacted by the super flood in 2022.
While Maqbool Baqar has been on judgement end of the above cases, as the Caretaker Chief Minister he is now faced with multiple issues, political and environmental in nature that will test his commitment to human rights. His performance will now be judged by the public and it remains to be seen how he will navigate the quagmire that is the politics of Sindh.
While the challenges he faces in terms of pushing for on-time elections, impact of free-falling inflation, and the energy crisis (to list a few) are huge, environmental issues are no less. Bahria Town continues to encroach on forest land, Kirthar National park and more; Malir Expressway is ripping through agricultural land, people’s homes, and the Malir river itself to connect DHA with DHA City; and the haphazard, unplanned settlements including on the banks of stormwater drains continue, while the ‘anti-encroachment’ drives render even more people as displaced.
And yet, these issues only address the tip of the iceberg (while actual icebergs and glaciers melt away) of environmental devastation that has been wrought across Sindh over the years. The dysfunctionality of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, extreme weather patterns ranging from deadly heatwaves to cloudbursts leading to spoilt crops and food shortages, poisonous air quality leading to diseases, and lack of clean drinking water in an already parched province, ironically inundated with stagnant flood water, remain as some of the most pressing concerns.
Chief Minister Baqar has his work cut out for him. His judgement in the past has been soundly enviro-human-centric. As Chief Minister he has vowed to address public issues. And only recently this writer himself has witnessed his agitation at the overuse of plastic, hence there is high hope that the environmentalist will shine through yet again.