The Supreme Court of Pakistan has granted a week to the government to submit a reply on why local government elections in cantonment areas have not been held for the last 14 years. The move came at the request of the government prosecutor on Monday.
During the hearing of the case, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry observed that not holding elections at local level is a constitutional violation.
He said the government is responsible for holding elections when it talks about strengthening democracy in the country, he said.
The court expressed concerned after the deputy attorney general revealed that he still not received a reply from the Ministry of Defence and said local elections are of utmost important for strengthening national institutions.
Every year, a notification of extension has been issued, but the government is not holding elections said Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh. The court adjourned till December 17 at the request of Deputy Attorney General Dil Mohammad Alizai.
A three-judge bench had had taken up a 2009 petition of Rab Nawaz from Quetta challenging the absence of local government elections in different cantonment boards also demanded justification for violating the constitution by not holding such elections in cantonment areas for since 1998.
Residents of cantonment areas said that in the absence of elected local representatives, they have no say in local governance. “Traders are usually filling the role of elected representatives, but they look out for their own interests and not those of residents”, said a resident of Lal Kurti.
When asked about the impact of not having local representation, Rawalpindi Cantonment Board (RCB) Vice President Chaudhry Abdul Rauf told The Express Tribune that he would like to see the apex court order implemented. “I believe elections are the best way to access the masses, but unfortunately for 14 years, this practice was not adopted across the country,” he added. He felt it would “definitely have positive impact on society as people would be able to directly access their representatives”. Referring to the local government system during the tenure of former president Pervez Musharraf, he said it was a good practice and is worth adopting again, “not only in cantonment but across the country, as democracy is the best way [to solve local problems]”.
Clean up the mess
As the country’s highest court highlighted the need for elected local representation, Punjab’s highest court ordered Rawalpindi cantonment authorities to follow its past instructions on a petition filed by a local resident and representative.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday summoned the RCB executive officer to explain why garbage dumped in a playground had not been removed despite the issuance of court orders.
Justice Khawaja Imtiaz Ahmad of the LHC’s Rawalpindi bench directed RCB Executive Officer Rana Manzoor Ahmed to appear in court on December 19 after it was found that garbage had not been removed from a playground in Dhoke Syedan.
On October 19, LHC Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh directed RCB authorities to remove garbage and debris dumped at the ground after local residents demanded action.
The RCB executive officer had informed the court that the garbage was dumped by National Logistics Cell and the cantonment authorities had nothing to do with the material. The court however was not satisfied with the response and directed the RCB head to remove the debris in three days.
Anwar Dar, an area resident and NGO worker, filed a petition in the high court two years ago saying some 100 kanals lying vacant should be set aside for a public park and playground as the military authorities wanted to sell the land to generate funds for new GHQ.
While the matter was pending adjudication after the high court issued an interim order about not changing the present status of the land, military authorities started dumping waste building material and debris right in the middle of the populated area, the petitioner said.
Mountains of debris have been dumped in the ground, making it unusable for use as a park. The authorities started to lift the material soon after the court but did not continue the task for more than two days, the petitioner said.
The RCB administration also rented out the open space for a cattle market on the eve of Eidul Azha, which led to the addition of animal waste in the populated area.
The petitioner has prayed to the court to direct the RCB executive officer and the military estate officer to clean up the area and set aside the ground for public use.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2012.