After remaining hesitant to hold elections at the grassroot level, Punjab government is now reportedly consulting legal experts about the Supreme Court’s order of restoring the local bodies in the province.
The Supreme Court has ordered the reinstatement of more than 58,000 elected representatives in the local bodies. While the government is reportedly consulting legal experts on the possibility of avoiding immediate restoration of the local bodies, some former chairpersons of district councils and mayors of cities reportedly attempted to return to their offices before the issuance of notification of their restoration.
The old municipal bodies still have one year of their tenure left.
More than 95% of the elected local representatives in Punjab belong to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
In May 2019, the current government after coming into power abolished the Local Government Act 2013 and enacted the Local Government Act 2019, sending home more than 58,000 elected local government representatives.
Local bodies across the province, including the Metropolitan Corporation Lahore, were dissolved.
The Punjab government-appointed administrators of the local bodies after sending home the elected representatives.
The commissioners have been appointed as administrators of local bodies in the nine divisional headquarters, including the provincial capital. The deputy commissioners are acting as administrators in 27 districts.
The powers of 58,000 elected representatives of local bodies from all over the province, including 367 of Lahore city, were withdrawn and they were sent home.
The Punjab government was supposed to hold two phases of elections within a year as per clause one of section three of the act.
Neighbourhood and panchayat elections were to be held in six months.
Preparations have been made to abolish the 274 union councils of Lahore and form 420 neighbourhood councils, but the elections have not been held yet.
The government has introduced the Tehsil system instead of the bodies at the district level without any preparation and consideration of the ground realities. Due to the pointing out of wide-ranging complications, further amendments are being made in the law.
Initial preparations for the elections were made by the Election Commission but after further amendments in the proposed local bodies system by the Punjab government, it also fell silent.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court ruled that the move to dissolve local bodies before the stipulated period was wrong. The court restored the old local government system but the detailed verdict has not yet reached the former heads of local bodies.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government has started legal consultations to temporarily avoid restoring the old local governments.
In some districts of Punjab, including Lahore, former mayors and chairmen of district councils reportedly reached their offices to occupy them. But the notification of the restoration of their powers and posts had not been issued. The elected representatives returned after chanting slogans.
The local government department will issue such a notification on the instructions of the provincial government if it decides to implement the court order instead of filing an appeal against it or bring a new law on the subject. However, such a situation is unlikely, according to political analysts.
The restoration of powers and return to offices of the local body representatives at this stage depends on the decision of the Punjab government.
Former lord mayor of Lahore Colonel (retd) Mubashir Javed said while speaking to The Express Tribune that the people had won as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court. He said Section 140A of the Constitution had been violated.
He said there was no difference between the incumbent government and a dictatorship. He said a battle for the rights of the citizens was being fought.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2021.