The Supreme Court’s verdict

Local governments in the Punjab, which legally stand restored, will complete their terms on December 31

A three-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) has directed the restoration of local governments in the Punjab. These governments, which legally stand restored, will complete their terms on December 31.

The SC verdict has triggered panic and confusion in the PTI ranks. The local governments that were elected under the Punjab Local Government Act 2013 were dissolved on May 3, 2019. These governments will be restored under the Punjab Local Government Act (PLGA) 2019.

A three-member bench headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, heard the petitions challenging PLGA 2019, and ordered restoration of the local governments in the Punjab on March 25 declaring Section 3 of the Act ultra vires of the Constitution. In its short order, the court announced that for reasons to be recorded separately, constitutional petition No 48 of 2019 is allowed and Section 3 of the Act is declared ultra vires. Basically, the local governments existing in the Punjab prior to promulgation of the said section of PLGA 2019 stand restored it shall complete their terms in accordance with law.

Section 3 of the PLGA 2019 reads, “Dissolution of existing local governments. – (1) All local governments constituted or continued under the Punjab Local Government Act, 2013 (Act XVIII of 2013) are hereby dissolved”. The chief justice observed that the term of local body representatives is five years therefore such sections cannot be allowed whereby the local representatives can be sent home before that period. However, the short order does not mention how the composition of the local governments, elected under PLG 2013 would be restored under the 2019 act that constitutes an altogether different setup in its Section 15.

The PLGA 2013 had only one metropolitan corporation whereas the PLGA 2019 provides for nine metropolitan corporations. Previously, there were 11 municipal corporations, but the 2019 Act raised the number to 17. In PLGA 2019, the number of municipal committees was reduced from 182 to 133. District councils were abolished and tehsil councils and neighborhood councils were created through the Act. In addition, the short order does not address the issue arising from Section 316 of the PLGA 2019 after the learned court abolished Section 3, declaring it a violation of constitution. The Section 316 (1) of PLGA 2019 reads, “On coming into force of this Act, all mayors, chairmen, deputy mayors and councillors of the defunct local governments shall [cease] to hold their respective offices forthwith.”

The apex court might shed some light on the matter in its detailed order.

The situation in the government’s ranks is chaotic. A high ranked official, serving with the chief minister, told TNS on condition of anonymity, “We don’t know how to handle this order. We will either have to amend the Act (which needs time) or to hold new elections immediately (which is also not possible at the moment because of Covid-19 third wave).” Local elections in the Punjab were held phase-wise in 2015 and 2016. The local governments were formed in January 1, 2017 for a term of five years that would end on December 31, 2021. In the PLGA 2019, the term of local governments has been reduced to four years.

Col Mubashir (retired), the last elected mayor of Lahore and a PML-N stalwart, says, “Don’t call me the former mayor. After the courts’ verdict I am the mayor of Lahore.” He visited the offices of Lahore Metropolitan Corporation on March 26 along with some other elected local government colleagues and asked the administrator to hand over the charge to him but was denied. “I have sent three reminders to the Punjab chief secretary and local government secretary for compliance of the court’s order. So far, they have not responded.” He says he will file a suit before the Lahore High Court for the compliance of the Supreme Court’s orders. He says the SC verdict is a landmark judgment that will protect local governments forever. “No provincial governments will be now able to depose the elected local governments through ordinances” he concludes.

The author is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and researcher. He tweets at      @BukhariMubasher

The Supreme Court’s verdict