ISLAMABAD, Nov 5: The Supreme Court formally indicted on Tuesday Defence Secretary retired Lt Gen Asif Yasin Malik on contempt charges for not honouring his undertaking of holding the much-needed local bodies’ elections in all 43 cantonment boards.

The court gave the federal government seven days to make up its mind and decide about the holding of LG elections in the cantonment boards. It also directed the provincial governments to hold local bodies’ elections in Sindh and Punjab by Nov 27 and Dec 7 respectively.

“It will be an ideal situation that will also earn appreciation from the general masses if the command of Article 140 A of the constitution is followed in letter and spirit and the local government system is established by devolving political, administrative and financial responsibilities and authority to the elected representatives,” observed a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

This would also ensure that the people living in garrison areas were not discriminated against, especially when the provincial governments were preparing to hold similar elections, the court said in its order.

“In case no decision is taken within seven days, the court will be free to examine Section 15e of the Cantonment Board Act 1924, which suggests revival of the old body dissolved after completing its tenure,” the order cautioned.

The last LG elections in cantonment areas were held 14 years ago. The local bodies were dissolved in Balochistan on Jan 9, 2010, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Jan 30, in Punjab on Feb 23 and in Sindh on Feb 24. The court also decided to examine under which authority funds of cantonment boards were currently being spent. “If satisfactory explanation is not offered, the court will be free to protect the rights of the general public by pronouncing an appropriate order,” it warned and directed the defence secretary to submit justification on or before Nov 11 to the SC registrar.

The court made it clear that it had never shown haste while directing the government to hold the elections and noted that the proceedings on the absence of local bodies in cantonment boards had been initiated on a petition filed by a former vice chairman of the Quetta Cantonment Board, Raja Rab Nawaz, in 2009.

The petition first came up for hearing on Jan 3 this year and was disposed of with a directive to the government not to grant further extension to the cantonment boards in terms of Section 14(1b) of the Cantonment Board Act 1924 after the expiry of their tenure on May 5.

“Reluctance in enforcing the constitutional provisions for one reason or the other is not understandable. Despite earlier directions, elections were never held, rather an application was filed requesting for further extension,” the court regretted.

Referring to the proposed amendments to the Cantonment Board Ordinance 2002 by the federal government, the court observed that contents of the bill depicted a democratic vision of the government headed by a political party, but as far as existing laws on the local government held the field it was not possible for the government to further delay LG elections under Article 32, read with Article 17 and 140A of the constitution.

“One can admire the endeavour being made, but at the same time elections cannot be postponed,” the chief justice categorically said, adding that the government was always free to amend the law or change the composition of the elected body, if needed, with retrospective effect.

“We are of the considered opinion that in the name of the amendments, constitutional provisions cannot be flouted by not adhering to the command of the constitution,” the court said, adding that the government should hold the elections under existing laws without further delay.

The court expressed dissatisfaction over the performance of the government in relation to the holding of LG elections in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), except that a bill was prepared. “No discrimination should be done to the people of Islamabad, which is only two kilometres away from Punjab which is holding elections on Dec 7,” the court said.

The federal government was asked to submit similar reports in seven days about Islamabad, KP and Balochistan.

CONTEMPT CASE: The apex court framed charges against Defence Secretary Yasin Malik for not honouring the undertaking to hold LG elections in cantonment boards by Sept 15.

“By failing to hold the elections, the defence secretary disobeyed the order of the court as a result of which he is held to be guilty of contempt under Section 2b of the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003, read with Article 204(3) of the constitution.” the court said in its order. Since his reply was not satisfactory, he should be tried for the charge, it added.

The secretary, represented by Iftikhar Gilani, pleaded not guilty and claimed a trial. The counsel said his client had moved an inter-court appeal challenging the Oct 25 order of framing charges against him and requested the court to constitute a five-judge larger bench to hear the appeal.

Mr Gilani also requested that the chief justice should dissociate himself from the bench because he had to constitute the larger bench for hearing the appeal.

The chief justice assured the counsel that subject to availability of the bench his appeal would be fixed as early as possible.

The hearing was adjourned to Nov 12.

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