ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Friday expressed dismay over noncompliance with its March 25 order for restoration of local government institutions in Punjab, and summoned both the incumbent as well as the former chief secretary of the province.

Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed, a two-judge SC bench had taken up a contempt petition moved by 15 chairmen of different zila councils and mayors for not allowing the local government institutions in Punjab to resume their function.

The apex court asked former Punjab chief secretary Jawad Rafique Malik and incumbent Chief Secretary Kamran Afzal to appear before the bench at the next hearing on Oct 20.

In its March 25 order, the SC had directed the provincial government to immediately restore the local government institutions after declaring Section 3 of the Punjab Local Government Act 2019 whereby the local bodies were dissolved as ultra vires of the Constitution.

CJP-led bench unhappy over noncompliance with its March 25 order for restoration of local govt offices

Then the court had also ruled that local governments as they existed in Punjab prior to the promulgation of Section 3 stood restored and they should complete their term in accordance with law, which was expiring on Dec 31, 2021.

The court had issued the directives on the petition filed by Asad Ali Khan against the dissolution of the local governments with the demand that elected members of the local governments were entitled to complete their constitutional term that was expiring on Dec 31, 2021.

In the contempt petition, the petitioners had pleaded that Punjab government under the Constitution was duty bound to entrust the transition of powers smoothly and without any interruption to the petitioners and other members of the local governments. But the government was taking all it could to hamper the petitioners from taking charge of their offices and exercise powers conferred upon them under the law, he regretted. The contempt petition had also pleaded that the members of different local government institutions were not being allowed to take control of their offices and being hampered to take charge of the work as most evidently the provincial government was still exercising control over the local governments through administrators appointed under the May 4, 2019 notification.

Appearing before the Supreme Court on Friday, Punjab Local Government Secretary Noorul Amin Mengal sought time to hire a lawyer to respond to the contempt petition.

At the hearing, the CJP remarked that the secretary had no idea about the local bodies despite the fact that he was the secretary. “Are you here in the court for a fun?” the CJP observed, while cautioning him that the court could send him to the jail from the courtroom.

The CJP was also unhappy that the government failed to implement the court order until when the term of the institutions was about to expire in December.

At the same time, the chief justice wondered what Lahore mayor Mubashir Javed had done till date in the face of those challenges. When the court was told that a meeting was held on the street as the local government received no assistance from the Punjab government, the CJP asked the mayor to see how local government functions in the world and told him that he could work while sitting on streets if they really wanted to work. However, the court was apprised that the mayor office could not even afford to hire a cleaner.

The court was told that the Punjab government locked the local body representatives out of their offices. “Name the people who locked the offices,” Justice Gulzar said, adding that the local bodies wanted money and staffers to resume work.

Meanwhile, the local government and community development secretary in a report assured the court that the Punjab government was making utmost efforts to implement the judgement by way of ensuring smooth transition. Process of transition of properties, rights, funds, claims, liabilities, officers and employees / servants to the restored local governments would be completed soon, the report stated.

It explained that the matter was placed for consideration before the provincial cabinet that approved a proposed transition plan in principle and constituted a seven-member committee, headed by the provincial law minister as its convener, to implement the transition plan.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2021

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