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October 14, 2020

SHC directs federal sub-committee to expedite finalisation of census results

Karachi

October 14, 2020

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Tuesday directed the federal government to submit a report about the decision of a sub-committee constituted by the federal cabinet to consider the issue with regard to the publication of the final census results.

During the hearing of a petition of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement against the constitution of delimitation committees and process of delimitation for the local bodies elections in the province by the provincial election commission, a division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar asked a federal law officer about the progress report of the federal cabinet’s sub-committee meeting with regard to the publication of the final census results.

The high court on a previous hearing had directed the federal law officer to seek instructions from the Council of Common Interests (CCI) with regard to the publication of the final census results. The joint census commissioner had informed the high court that the final results had already been forwarded to the CCI and after its approval, the final results would be announced.

The law officer filed comments on behalf of the federal government showing the seriousness of the relevant quarter about finalising the census results. He submitted that the last meeting of the federal cabinet’s sub-committee was convened on October 9 in the committee room of the maritime affairs ministry in which at least 11 members were in attendance. The law officer submitted that the issue was at the verge of finalisation and sought two weeks to submit the progress report.

The SHC directed the federal maritime affairs minister as well as the planning and development secretary to ensure that they would expedite the proceedings and a progress report shall be submitted on the next hearing with regard to the finalisation of the census results by November 4.

The high court had earlier observed that the provincial election commissioner and officer of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics had already given the statement that without a notification of the final results of the census, the local bodies elections in the province were not possible.

MQM Senior Deputy Convener Amir Khan, Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar and others submitted in the petition that the provincial election commissioner had formed election committees for the delimitation of the local bodies’ constituencies and carried out a delimitation process in violation of the election commission’s laws.

They submitted that the election commission was required to carry out delimitation after every census officially published by the competent authority and the final results of the 2017 census had not been officially published. They submitted that the delimitation of the constituencies in absence of any official publication could not be possible under the election and delimitation laws.

They submitted that the results of the 2017 census were are still disputed and even sub judice before a court of the law and other relevant forums. They said that the election authorities had acted to proceed with the delimitation process in the absence of any statutory sanction amounts to hoodwink the law and circumventing the mandatory provisions.

They also questioned the constitution of committees in the absence of officials of the statistics bureau or census bureau. They submitted that the delimitation committees and their exercise, if any, were of no legal effect for the reason that the law did not permit the delimitation to take place on the basis of the provisional results.

They submitted that the delimitation exercise during the pandemic of COVID-19 could not be possible and instead the appointment of administrators should be extended for further six months.

The SHC was requested to declare the constitution of the committees for delimitation of local bodies’ constituencies as illegal and restrain them from carrying out the delimitation process for the constituencies in the province till the decision of the petition.

The petitioner’s counsel submitted that the ECP had to delimit the constituencies after every census officially published whereas in the same section powers had been given to the commission to delimit the territorial constituencies for elections to the National Assembly, each provincial assembly and the local governments in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, Election Act, rules and the applicable local government laws.

He submitted that the exercise of delimitation was totally unjustified and also in violation of the law. A counsel for the Election Commission of Pakistan submitted that the two applications had also been filed before the ECP raising question that the exercise of delimitation on the basis of provisional population figures of the 2017 census was unconstitutional and the ECP could not delimit the constituencies of the local governments in Sindh in the absence of an officially published census.

The ECP counsel submitted that these applications were disposed of by the ECP on ground that the non-provision of the requisite data notifications and maps by the Sindh government, the process of delimitation of constituencies of local governments of Sindh initiated by the commission vide notification on August 31 is deferred for time being.

ECP Special Secretary Zafar Iqbal Malik submitted that official results of the census must be published for the fair exercise of delimitation.

It is pertinent to mention here that the provincial election commissioner had sent a notification to all the district election commissioners for the delimitation of union councils, union committees and wards for conducting the forthcoming local government elections in the province, the term of which was expired by August 31, 2020.