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MURREE: With only three days (Oct 3) left to file nomination papers for local government elections, political parties in Murree stand confused.

Their candidates are not clear whether they should file papers for the old municipal committee or the new municipal corporation.

As many as 21 petitions and appeals have been filed with the delimitation authority against the January 5 decision of the government to convert Murree into a municipal corporation. All were dismissed without a hearing.

Raja Shafqat Khan Abbasi, a former PPP member of the Punjab Assembly, then filed a petition with Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi bench against the dismissal. The court ordered the physical inspection of the union councils and hearing of all the stakeholders. The next date of hearing is September 30 (today).

The Punjab government converted Murree Municipal Committee into a municipal corporation, violating provincial laws.

According to the Punjab Local Government Bill 2014, a city with a population of 500,000 would be a municipal corporation while a population of 30,000 or above would get a town or a city a municipal committee.

With these conditions, Murree, which has a population of 108,000, should be a committee and not a municipal corporation, which it has become.

In addition, more than 85pc of Murree comprises rural areas which also cannot be declared a municipal corporation as the latter is to be established in urban areas.

The Murree Municipal Committee dates back to the British era – it was established in 1860. It continued to function in one form or another after 1947.

In 2000, under General Pervez Musharraf’s devolution plan, the municipal committee was dissolved and a town municipal administration was formed to bring the less-developed rural areas on par with the developed urban areas. But the new arrangement proved disastrous for Murree as rampant illegal construction was allowed in urban areas while rural areas were ignored.

Now the PML-N Punjab government has converted Murree into a municipal corporation despite the fact that demographically the town does not fall in that category.

The local chapters of political parties have opposed the formation of the municipal corporation and demanded the restoration of the Murree Municipal Committee. These parties claim that many union councils that were located far away had allegedly been included in the municipal corporation. These UCs did not have the required population to fall in the category of a municipal corporation.

Iftikhar Abbasi, a local leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), told Dawn that the new arrangement would add to the problems of the residents.

He said after the formation of the municipal corporation, the people of rural areas would have to get maps of their small houses approved and pay taxes without getting any benefits as had happened in the past.

He pointed out that areas where a large number of housing societies had been launched were not included in the municipal corporation to exempt them from taxes.

Haroon Mehfooz, a former nazim of the Murree city and leader of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), said the new arrangement would only benefit the rich and the poor people of the rural areas would have to pay taxes without getting the benefits.

Assistant Commissioner Murree Tahir Farooq, who is also the administrator of Murree town, said the special directive to establish the municipal corporation was issued to improve governance and quality of administration in the area.

Published in Dawn, September 30th , 2015

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