The apex court has admitted the ruling PTI’s petition seeking directions for the PPP led Sindh government to devolve powers to the local government (LG) institutions of the province in view of various provisions of the Constitution.
A three-member special bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed on Wednesday took up the constitutional petition that challenged the Sindh Local Government Act (SLGA) adopted by the Sindh Assembly in August 2013.
The petition – moved by the PTI through its chairman, Imran Khan, and a senior leader, Asad Umar – contended that the SLGA 2013 does not take into account the Article 140-A as well as Articles 3, 4, 9, 14, 16, 17, 19, 19A and 25 of the Constitution.
Setting aside the objections raised to the petition by its registrar office, the bench issued notices to all respondents. It also asked Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Javed Khan and the Sindh advocate general to assist the court in the case. Famous lawyer Ali Zafar appeared on behalf of the PTI.
However, earlier the court heard a similar petition filed by the MQM-P.
The party, which is a part of the ruling coalition with a vote bank in urban Sindh, contended that local governments are a part of the state in view of Article-7 of the Constitution.
Arguing his case, the MQM’s counsel Salahuddin Ahmed said all political parties state in their manifesto that power would be transferred to the grassroots level
“However, under the SLGA 2013 a lot of local government functions were delegated to the provincial government. Sections 74 and 75 of the act are ultra vires the Constitution,” he said.
A member of the bench, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, noted that whenever political parties are in power, they want to centralize the government but when they are in opposition, they demand decentralization.
The judge asked the counsel to assist the bench on the working of LG systems around the world.
Justice Ahsan also asked whether the petitioner party, MQM-P, opposed the SLGA 2013 when it was passed by the Sindh Assembly. The counsel replied that the party objected to the legislation but could not stop it as it was in minority.
However, CJ Gulzar Ahmed, who also hails from Karachi, asked the counsel what the party has done for the betterment of people in the metropolis.
“People were dying in the city during the recent rains. However, the KMC [Karachi Metropolitan Corporation] employees were resting in their homes.
“Rs5 billion is being spent on their salaries. Where were the sanitary workers during rains?” he asked.
The CJ observed that the system always works poorly in Karachi. There is also an issue of coordination between the provincial government and the LG system, he said.
“Your [MQM-P] also created a mess in the city,” the CJ observed.
Justice Ahsan noted that the political parties make local government laws to suit their interests.
“If the provincial governments are sincere then they should have a strong LG system wherein power should be structured,” he said. The judge also expressed dissatisfaction over Sindh LG laws.
The bench later directed the MQM's counsel to submit a synopsis of his formulations and adjourned the hearing of the case till the second week of October.
Interestingly, the court did not take up a constitution petition filed by four former representatives of Punjab local government against dissolution of previous local bodies working under the Punjab Local Government Act 2013.
The petitioners had also challenged the enactment of Punjab Local Government Act 2019.
When the counsel for the petitioners stood at the rostrum to seek hearing of the petition the CJ said the court would give comprehensive judgment for all over the country, to the dismay of the petitioners and a large number of Punjab LG representatives who were present in the courtroom.
Another special bench led by Justice Mushir Alam while hearing the same matter on July 13, had issued notice to the AGP and Punjab advocate general for legal assistance.
The earlier bench on July 13 noted that the petitioners had not filed any application for suspension of the Punjab Local Government Act 2019. “If the application is filed for consideration [an] order as may be deemed appropriate be passed,” it said in the order.
The case was, however, shifted to the three-judge bench headed by the CJ. However, the bench on Wednesday did not hear the petition. A section of lawyers is wondering why this case was transferred from one bench to another.
During the hearing, senior PTI leader Asad Umar, seniors PML-N leaders Ahsan Iqbal and Danyal Aziz and PPP leader Farhatullah Babar were present in the courtroom.
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