Punjab govt disenfranchised voters by dissolving local bodies, says SC judgement

Published July 6, 2021
The Supreme Court has ruled that by dissolving the local government institutions, the Punjab government had disenfranchised the people who voted for their representatives. — Photo courtesy SC website/File
The Supreme Court has ruled that by dissolving the local government institutions, the Punjab government had disenfranchised the people who voted for their representatives. — Photo courtesy SC website/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has ruled that by dissolving the local government institutions, the Punjab government had disenfranchised the people who voted for their representatives.

The dissolution of the local government system in Punjab has directly come into conflict with Article 17 of the Constitution, read with Articles 140A, 7 and 32, explained a detailed judgement authored by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed and released on Monday.

On March 25 this year, a three-judge Supreme Court bench, through a short order, had ordered restoration of local bodies in the province after declaring their dissolution as unconstitutional.

The Punjab government dissolved local government institutions under Section 3 of the Punjab Local Govern­ment Act (PLGA) 2019, though the elections were held under PLGA 2013 in phases in 2015 and 2016. The tenure of elected local bodies was five years.

But the tenure of local bodies came to an abrupt end on July 2 last year after the provincial government amended Section 3(2) by inserting the words “21 months” to replace “five years”.

Established under Article 140-A of the Constitution, the local government system, when translated into an elected local government for a specified period under the law, cannot be dissolved before the period of its expiry, said the 18-page judgement.

The Supreme Court was seized with a set of petitions moved by Asad Ali Khan through his counsel Muhammad Nawazish Ali Pirzada and Danial Aziz.

The petitioners challenged the dissolution under Section 3 of the PLGA 2019 with a plea that elected members of local bodies were entitled to complete their constitutional term, which would have expired on Dec 31 this year.

Citing Article 140-A of the Constitution, the judgement said the provision envisaged the establishment of a local government system by the provinces.

It also required devolving of political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to elected representatives of local governments, the judgement said.

A local government has to remain in office for five years from the date it holds its first meeting, the judgement reminded the provincial government.

It further said that since the local bodies in Punjab held their first meeting in January 2017, their term would have ended in January 2022.

The judgement explained that under Article 7 of the Constitution, the local government has been given status of a ‘state’ and, apparently, it was a third tier of government in the federation.

Article 17 provides for freedom of association and gives rights to every citizen to form associations, unions, or become a member of a political party. Likewise, Article 32 is a part of the “principles of policy of the state” and provides that the state will encourage local government institutions composed of elected representatives and in such institutions, special representation will be given to peasants, workers and women.

The principles of policy of the state have a place in overall working of the state and all acts of its organs and functionaries have to be in consonance with the directives of these principles.

No inconsistency in this regard can be made by the state or its organs in performance of its functions, the judgement said.

There is no cavil to the proposition that a provincial legislature is competent to make laws and the Act of 2019 has been made by a competent legislature. But the difficulty is only with regard to Section 3 of the Act where it brings about total dissolution of local governments in Punjab and sends all elected representatives home without allowing them to complete their term of office. The Act of 2013 gave them this right, the judgement said.

An elected local government cannot be dissolved by the application of Section 3 of the 2019 law, the judgement said. The 2013 Act did not give such powers to the provincial government, the court recalled.

A victorious political party must implement the manifesto on the basis of which it fought a local bodies election, the Supreme Court added.

Any unlawful order which stops a party from redeeming its promises to voters by removing it from office before the completion of its tenure will constitute an infringement of fundamental rights, according to the judgement.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2021

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