The Lahore High Court (LHC) issued notices to the Punjab government and other respondents on Monday, seeking their replies by June 24 on a plea challenging an ordinance promulgated by the province's governor to place the assembly under the law department.

The plea was filed by Punjab Assembly Speaker Parvez Elahi earlier today, amid a crisis that goes back to the resignation of chief minister Usman Buzdar in March and the subsequent election of Hamza Shehbaz as the Punjab chief minister on April 16, after he garnered majority votes against Elahi in a session marred by violence and chaos.

Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman's move to promulgate the Punjab Laws (Repealing and Removal of Difficulties) Ordinance 2022 on June 15, in a bid to convene a Punjab Assembly session for the presentation of a provincial budget amid a standoff with Elahi, is at the centre of of the latest chapter of the crisis that has gripped Punjab for over a month.

On June 13, when the government initially planned to present the provincial budget during the assembly's 40th session, Elahi had refused to conduct the session and allow the budget to be presented, demanding the inspector general of police (IGP) first tender an apology to him and withdraw all cases lodged against the PTI and PML-Q workers and parliamentarians in connection with the chaotic April 16 session that saw the election of Hamza as the province's chief executive.

Next day, Governor Balighur Rehman had cancelled the ongoing 40th session and summoned the 41st at Aiwan-i-Iqbal, some 700 metres away from the Punjab Assembly, at 2pm. However, despite the governor's orders, the speaker declared that the 40th session would continue.

Eventually, the governor had promulgated The Punjab Laws (Repealing and Removal of Difficulties) Ordinance 2022, curtailing the speaker’s powers and empowering the Punjab law and parliamentary affairs department to issue notifications regarding summoning or prorogation of the provincial assembly.

On June 15, Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari chaired an assembly session at the Aiwan-i-Iqbal Complex, where the provincial budget was presented. The session was attended only by lawmakers from the ruling coalition.

Meanwhile, Elahi had simultaneously chaired a session at the provincial assembly building, where lawmakers from the opposition had rejected the Punjab Laws (Repealing and Removal of Difficulties) Ordinance, 2022.

The petition

Earlier today, Elahi filed a plea challenging the ordinance, terming it "illegal" and "mala fide with ulterior motives".

In his petition, he prayed the court to strike down the ordinance, along with all subsequent actions, proceedings and decisions taken under it.

He contended that the ordinance lacked any "lawful authority", was "person-specific" and had been promulgated to "give undue advantage to the respondents".

Elahi also maintained that the ordinance violated the Rules of Business, Government of Punjab, 2011 and Rules and Procedures of Punjab Assembly, 1996, in addition to being ultra vires to the Constitution.

He further requested the court that during the pendency of his petition, "the operation of the impugned ordinance, along with impugned notifications, may kindly be suspended."

Referring to the Punjab Assembly session on June 13, Elahi claimed that he had "repeatedly requested" the provincial finance minister to present the budget, "but due to ulterior motives and mala fide", he did not do so.

Instead, Elahi said, the minister announced on the floor of the house that the Punjab governor had prorogued the ongoing session and left, along with others from treasury benches.

"Later on, through electronic media, it was further confirmed to the petitioner that the Punjab governor [had] illegally, unlawfully, unconstitutionally, in an arbitrary manner and based upon mala fide and ulterior motives, prorogued the 40th session of the Punjab Assembly on the advice of the non-elected chief minister, as per the opinion of the provincial cabinet in its meeting on June 14," the plea read.

Elahi said the decision was "illegally" notified by the Punjab law secretary.

The speaker said he had summoned the 41st session of the Punjab Assembly on June 15, but soon after the notification and agenda were issued for it, the "respondents, with the active connivance of the Punjab governor and provincial government, illegally, unlawfully, unconstitutionally and with malicious intent summoned" a separate session at Aiwan-i-Iqbal.

The Punjab governor then promulgated the Punjab Laws (Repealing and Removal of Difficulties) Ordinance 2022 in a "malafide manner, unlawfully, arbitrarily, in a hasty manner and without considering the required circumstances", Elahi said.

He further called the chairing of the session by the deputy speaker at Aiwan-i-Iqbal illegal and unlawful.

The speaker alleged that these actions were aimed at hampering the smooth functioning of the assembly.

He contested the validity of the ordinance on grounds that it was promulgated while the house was in session and "no tangible reasons had been given for the extraordinary and compelling circumstances that led to its promulgation".

Elahi said the transfer of authority to summon or prorogue an assembly session from the assembly secretary to the law secretary was an attack on the scheme of the Constitution. He further termed the promulgation of the ordinance an act of interference in the assembly's independent working.

He said the ordinance was aimed at passing the budget in haste in absence of the opposition.

Highlighting that an LHC bench was yet to decide on the constitutionality of Hamza's election, he said the purpose of the ordinance was also to "legalise the plundering of public/national money and robbing the national exchequer".

The hearing

Justice Sajid Mahmood Sethi took up the petition today.

During the hearing, Elahi's lawyer, Advocate Awais Ahmed, pointed out that the ordinance was issued while an assembly session was under way.

Justice Sethi said that he had taken an oath and he would decide the matter accordingly.

He added that he would take a decision after the submission of replies by the respondents.

The judge sought respondents' replies by June 24 and summoned the Punjab advocate general for assistance in the case.

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