Punjab reluctant to restore local governments

Local govt representatives to file contempt petition in Supreme Court on Monday


Hasnaat Malik April 10, 2021
Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar. PHOTO: NNI

ISLAMABAD:

The local government (LG) representatives in Punjab are going to file a contempt petition against the PTI-led Punjab government which has failed to implement the Supreme Court’s order regarding restoration of Punjab’s LGs despite passage of two weeks.

On May 5, 2019, around 58,000 LG representatives in Punjab – 85% of which belonging to the PML-N – were sent packing – years before completion of their term – after the provincial governor signed the Punjab Local Government Act (PLGA) 2019.

The LG representatives later moved the apex court whose three-judge bench, presided over by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar, on March 25 passed a short order, restoring the LGs.

However, the order is yet to be implemented by the Punjab government as the LG representatives are not being allowed to do administrative work. Talking to The Express Tribune, Mayor Bahawalpur Aqeel Najam Hashmi said senior officials have told the LG representatives not to come to their offices.

“Even, several offices of the LG representatives are being locked forcefully,” he said.

The LGs representatives approached the Lahore High Court (LHC) for getting the SC’s March 25 order implemented. However, the LHC refused to serve notices to the respondents until the SC issued its detailed judgment.

Later the counsels for LG representatives withdrew their petition from the high court. Now the petitioners will move a contempt petition in the Supreme Court on Monday.

Also read: Govt weighs options on LB revival

On the other hand, deliberations are under way among the federal and Punjab government functionaries regarding filing a review petition against the March 25 order.

“I have suggested that instead of filing a review petition, the Punjab government should file an application seeking the court’s guidance regarding implementation of the order as the PLGA 2019 is still intact and under the PLGA 2019 the composition of LGs is different.

“Under the new law [PLGA, 2019], there is no concept of district and union councils in Punjab,” a senior official in Punjab told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity. He, however, admitted that there is no legal flaw in March 25 order.

A lawyer who is representing the LG representatives in the superior courts said according to the scheme of the PLGA 2019, the LGs have been divided into a two tier structure.

“There are village councils and tehsil councils. The PLGA 2019 provides under section 8 onwards for delimitation of the constituencies. After their delimitation, the government shall continue till the constitution of new LGs that eventually take place after the completion of the term of the present LGs.

“So in effect as per section 312 of the PLGA 2019, any provision colliding with the PLGA 2019 of the PLGA 2013 till the subsisting of the LGs and their term, the power envisage under the PLGA 2013 shall hold the field,” he claimed.

Historic judgment

Everyone had lauded the Supreme Court’s March 25. Many lawyers had even declared it the most significant ruling passed by CJP Gulzar in his 15 months tenure.

Umer Gilani, the counsel for the LG representatives in the high court, said the Supreme Court's order for restoring the LGs in the Punjab is a historic decision. He said the court has essentially constitutionalized the tenure of elected LGs through adopting a purposive reading of Article 140A.

“It is for this reason that this judgment will be remembered in history just like the court's ruling in Nawaz Sharif's case in 1992 and in the Sindh High Court Bar case in 2009.

“It might well be remembered by posterity as the most defining contribution of Chief Justice Gulzar to the development of Pakistani constitutional law," Gilani further said.

Senior lawyers believe that if a prime minister [Yusuf Raza Gilani] could be sacked for not implementing an SC order then why such directive could not be passed against provincial authorities who are not complying with the court order for restoring the LGs in Punjab.

Interestingly, the court passed the order after Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan raised objection to section 3 of the PLGA, 2019, which had empowered the Punjab government to dissolve the LG system before the expiry of its term.

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