GUJRAT: The elected representatives of the local bodies, after restoration of their offices by the Supreme Court (SC), are on the tenterhooks with regard to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led Punjab government’s future policy on running these grassroots institutions which are supposed to resolve the basic public issues.

Meanwhile, most of the chairmen of the district councils, union councils (UCs), municipalities and mayors of the municipal/metropolitan corporations assumed the charge of their respective offices on Friday and Saturday in accordance with the the apex court order, without facing any hurdle from the administrative officers holding their offices since their ouster.

According to officials, the charge assumption reports of the local government representatives are mainly being sent to the local government secretary, whereas some of the chairmen of district councils and mayors sent the documents’ copies to Supreme Court registrar, besides commissioners and deputy commissioners concerned as well.

On the other hand, official sources said the Punjab government had been waiting for the detailed SC judgment and would reveal and enforce its policy on the local bodies after studying the verdict, issuing guidelines for the concerned authorities across the province.

As per sources, initially the respective administrations did not resist the local bodies’ representatives who visited their respective offices to assume their charge.

Some of the representatives, however, said the official vehicles of the district council chairmen were still in the use of the deputy commissioners concerned who had been appointed as the administrators to run the local bodies affairs.

The DCs have also been heads of tehsil councils of the district headquarters and the municipal corporations (MCs), whereas assistant commissioners (ACs) were given the charge of other tehsil councils. Tehsildars were heading the municipal and town committees, other than those of the tehsil headquarters.

It is learnt that the official vehicles of municipalities, corporations and town committees have already been sent back to the Punjab local government department.

A senior administrative officer told Dawn that the detailed SC judgment might also address the legal issues surfacing after its order of restoring the local bodies in Punjab.

He said after dissolution of local bodies by the PTI government, the district councils had been devolved into tehsil councils and the rural UCs into the neighborhood and village councils. Similarly, he said, a large number of rural UCs had been included into the urban municipalities during the last delimitation and demarcation process.

So, he said, till the government came up with a clear policy on the matter, the senior officials had directed the DCs to let the elected representatives reclaim their offices as per SC judgment. However, the instructions regarding handover of the powers to the chairmen might be issued later, the officer said.

Ahmed Iqbal, Narowal district council chairman, told Dawn the court order had restored the status quo, which meant the local representatives would have same authority that they had when the Punjab government had illegally dissolved the elected local governments. He added that the government wasted at least two years by placing these institutions under the bureaucracy.He was of the view that after the SC order, the officers holding the local governments charge could be held responsible for spending the funds and using other resources, which might cause serious legal consequences for them (officers).

Gujrat district council chairman Tanveer Kotla said consultation with legal experts was underway to again move the court in case the government did not empower the local bodies’ elected representatives as per law.

Irfanul Haq adds from RAHIM YAR KHAN: Dozens of the PML-N councillors, chairman and vice-chairman of the municipal corporation (MC) reached the Jinnah Hall with their supporters and celebrated the restoration of the local government institutions on Saturday.

They were not following any Covid-19 standard operating procedures.

Councillor Abdul Waheed Bhatti told this correspondent that MC Chairman Mian Ijaz Amir and Vice Chairman Abdul Latif Bhatti along with all councillors took over the offices in the MC building at the Town Hall. They went to different offices of the municipal corporation where the chief officer and other employees gave them protocol.

On the other hand, District Council vice chairman Naeem Shafiq said he, the chairman and members of the district council, had not taken the charge of their offices because any notification in this regard had not been issued yet. He alleged that the MC chief officer had presented his chair to the MC chairman and it was akin to challenging the writ of the government. He said the action was illegal and a question mark for the bureaucracy.

MC Chief Officer Azmat Qadir Goraya said the chairman, vice chairman and councillors were local respectable figures due to which he and MC employees had given them protocol. He denied presenting his chair to anybody.

The MC representative, nominated by MNA Farooq Warraich, said all the people who took over the MC offices were ‘Qabza Group’ and he with his other representatives would also sit in the offices from Monday.

RYK Deputy Commissioner Khuram Shehzad told Dawn he was looking after all the matters of MC to facilitate the citizens. He said he did not want any confrontation; however, if the government would issue a notification on this matter, he would follow that.

Assistant Attorney General of Pakistan Chaudhry Ramzan Shama told this correspondent that it’s duty of the government to execute any order of the court through a procedure but there was a chance that the government would the move the apex court for a review.

When secretary local government would issue the notification, these former chairman, vice chairman and councillors would have a right to take the charge their offices but capturing the offices was a wrong practice, he added.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2021

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