The Supreme Court on Tuesday announced its verdict on a petition filed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) seeking empowerment and autonomy for local government institutions in Sindh as it directed the Sindh government to devolve financial, administrative and political powers to local government as enshrined under the Constitution.
The top court had reserved its decision on the MQM's plea on Oct 26, 2020.
The then MQM, now MQM-P, had challenged the Sindh Local Government Act (SLGA) 2013 in the Supreme Court in October 2013. The SLGA-2013 was passed into law by the Sindh Assembly on August 19 amid fierce opposition by the MQM.
In the verdict today, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed noted that local governments are formed under Article 140-A of the Constitution, which binds provincial governments to establish "empowered" local governments in their jurisdiction.
Read more: MQM challenges PPP-backed Sindh LG law in SC
The top judge remarked that a provincial government cannot launch a project that comes under the jurisdiction of the local government.
The court also declared void sections 74 and 75 of the SLGA, which are related to the transfer of functions from councils to government and commercial schemes.
Justice Ahmed said it was the prerogative of local governments to create and implement the city's master plan.
"The Sindh government is bound to set up empowered local bodies," the apex court said in its verdict.
The CJP remarked the Sindh government was also bound to have a "good working relationship with local governments [for effective functioning of the system]".
The court also ordered to amend the rules of the Sindh Building Control Authority and the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) in line with the Constitution, "while the laws related to the Malir Development Authority and the Hyderabad Development Authority must also be changed in accordance with the Constitution."
The apex court also directed provincial authorities to amend laws related to the Lyari Development Authority, the Sehwan Development Authority, the Larkana Development Authority and the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board.
"The laws where there is a contradiction between the powers of the provincial and local governments should also be amended," the court ruled.
Before wrapping up the petition, the chief justice directed the Sindh government to strictly ensure compliance of all related laws with Article 140-A of the Constitution.
'Day to rejoice'
MQM-P leader and Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication Aminul Haque said it was a "day to rejoice" for all legislatures of the country as the apex court defined Article 140-A of the Constitution in detail.
He said the court also clarified that a master plan should be in control of the mayor and elected representatives, saying that it was welcoming to see the top court nullifying sections 74 and 75 of the SLGA, which granted powers to the Sindh government to take control of any local institution.
"The provincial government had previously taken over KWSB and KDA from mayor," he recalled.
He said it was a victory of MQM in a case that it had been fighting for years. "It was our fight under the law and the Constitution. We are thankful to the Supreme Court for their timely decision that will help local bodies system prosper."
Leader of the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly Haleem Adil Sheikh also welcomed the apex court's decision and termed it "a breath of fresh air".
He said a separate petition of the PTI was also pending with the top court, adding that at least 21 sections of SLGA were in contradiction with Article 140-A.
Sheikh said the reaction of the Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah was disappointing, claiming that the PPP leader now fears losing powers. He claimed the PPP government wanted to retain all powers and was unwilling to devolve at the local level.
The MQM had contended in its petition that the PPP government had on Sept 16, 2013, enacted the Sindh Local Government Act to take over control of the devolved departments by amending Sections 74 and 75 of the act in violation of Article 140-A of the Constitution as municipal functions cannot be allocated to a provincial government or any other body or authority under its control, the petitioner argued.
“Thus the provincial government abused the 2013 act by making a parallel statute, rules and regulations to usurp the powers of the local governments.”
It further said the SLGA was void as it did not provide for devolution and decentralisation of essential departments as suggested in Article 140-A of the Constitution.
The party had prayed the court to declare the SLGA-2013 as unconstitutional and direct respondents to legislate and pass local government law in accordance with the country’s constitution.