Govt gets Supreme Court nod for caretaker setup in G-B

Top court says Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 can be amended for holding fresh polls

​ Our Correspondent April 30, 2020
An AFP file image of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the federal government could amend the Gilgit-Baltistan Order, 2018 for establishing a caretaker set-up in the region to hold fresh elections.

A seven-judge larger bench of the top court headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed issued ashort order on a plea filed by the government and the detailed judgment would be issued later.

During the proceedings, G-B Advocate General Muhammad Iqbal told the court that the G-B government had no qualms over the Centre holding new elections in there.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan inquired about the legal complications of extending the jurisdiction of the Elections Act, 2017 to G-B.

PTI govt approaches SC to form caretaker set-up in G-B

Chief Justice Gulzar asked the advocate general about who would conduct the polls in the region. Iqbal replied that G-B already had its own election commission.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial remarked that as per the apex court’s earlier verdict, the G-B Order, 2018 was still in effect.

Justice Ahsan said the process for conducting fresh polls in G-B would be explained in the detailed judgment.

A presidential decree on holding the elections could be issued in accordance with procedure that would be laid out in the detailed verdict, Justice Bandial said.

The tenure of the incumbent G-B government is set to end on June 24.

During the last hearing, the apex court had summoned the G-B advocate general to explain the G-B government’s position on the matter.

Justice Ahsan had asked Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Javed Khan why the government had approached the apex court and under what law were the previous polls held in the region.

To this, the AGP responded that the previous elections were held under Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009, but the new order passed in 2018 was silent on the caretaker set-up.

The AGP also stated that owing to geographical changes caused by India’s annexation of occupied Kashmir in August last year, it would also have to be considered in the new legislation for G-B.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial remarked that the region was of political importance and the governance in G-B should be exemplary.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed added that the citizens of G-B should get equal rights as all other citizens of the country.

The federal government had filed the petition on April 26.

“It is respectfully prayed that the federal government may please be allowed necessary amendments in the government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 for the caretaker government and conduct of elections for Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly, inter alia to adopt the Election Act 2017, the rules and regulations made thereunder and to do all that is necessary to continue democratic political process/regime in the area in the interest of justice,” read the civil miscellaneous application.

Delineating the background of the case, the application stated that in June 2018, the president of Pakistan had approved the promulgation of G-B Order 2018, which was challenged in the Supreme Appellate Court G-B, which on July 13, 2018 set aside the order and restored the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009). However, the judgment was suspended by the SC.

On December 3, 2018, the apex court ordered the federal government to prepare a fresh draft for the government of G-B on the basis of recommendations of Sartaj Aziz Committee.

A draft of G-B Reforms 2019 was submitted in the apex court, which on January 19 passed a detailed judgment.

In compliance with the apex court verdict, the G-B Governance Reforms, 2019 was placed before the federal cabinet.

PTI govt won't extend top court's jurisdictions to G-B

The people and government of G-B expressed discontentment over it to some extent.

The residents of G-B demanded that instead of governing G-B through presidential order, the area should be governed by an act of parliament.

The government of G-B observed that their apprehensions were not addressed.

Therefore, a meeting of all stakeholders on February 16, 2019 was held and a consensus was reached that the G-B Governance Reforms 2019 would be enacted through Act of Parliament as per aspirations of the people of G-B.

Accordingly, some amendments in proposed G-B Reforms Order 2019 were made in consultation with all stakeholders, said the application.

It was also stated that during the meetings with the stakeholders, it was proposed that a bill would be tabled in parliament soon. However, the process may take some time in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

The government informed the top court that the five-year term of the incumbent G-B government would expire in June and that there was an urgency to provide legal mechanism to the whole process for holding of election including setting up of a caretaker government in G-B.

It has been stated that subject “Election in G-B” was not clearly enumerated in the G-B Order, 2018 or in G-B Reforms 2019, which needed to be rectified.

The current G-B government would complete its five-year tenure in the last week of June and next general elections in region would become due within 60 days.

The government said not adopting the Elections Act 2017 and Elections Rules 2017 in G-B might delay the preparation of fresh computerised electoral rolls and election process of G-B Assembly.

Likewise, it has been stated that there is no provision in order 2018 for setting up caretaker government which is against the spirit of transparency and constitution.