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Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. — File Photo
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court issued on Friday a detailed judgment about extending the deadline for holding local government (LG) elections in the areas falling under the jurisdiction of cantonment boards, and stressed that the local government was the most vital ingredient of a democracy.

“Existence of local bodies is important for strengthening the process of democracy,” said the verdict authored by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. “The establishment of democratic institutions at grass-root level is a basic requirement for the welfare of the society.”

On July 2, a three-judge bench had set Sept 15 as new deadline for holding local bodies’ elections in the areas whose municipal affairs are run by cantonment boards and expressed confidence that the provincial governments and the Islamabad administration would also make arrangements to hold similar elections as soon as possible.

In the detail verdict, the court said that the local government system was based on the recognition that the only way to respond to the needs of individuals was to associate them with the process of authority. Essentially, the institutions at local/grass-roots levels protected human dignity of common man, it said, explaining that local or municipal government was a form of public administration that existed as the lowest tier of administration in a district.

The question of municipal autonomy was a key question of public administration and governance, the verdict stressed.

In general, local government was responsible for decision-making in those policy areas which had a direct impact on the lives of local people, e.g. urban regeneration, housing, education, employment and social security, health, arts, culture and sports, public transport, water and energy and regional planning, it said.

In those areas local people must have the opportunity to exert direct influence on policy-makers and thus participate in the decision-making process. Thus, local self-government not only had a legal and a political dimension but also sociological connotations since it directly affected community life, the verdict said. Over recent years, local self-government had been playing a vital role in ensuring good governance and community development, it said. On the one hand the local bodies provided services to the local community and, on the other, they acted as an instrument of democratic self-government, the judgment said.

The existence of local self-government provided mechanism for enforcement of fundamental rights of people, it said, adding that local government had always been appreciated by people because it remained within their approach and as such they got involved in the decision-making process.