Top court rules Section 3 of Punjab Local Government Act, 2019, is unconstitutional
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday ordered the restoration of local government in Punjab government, declaring its dissolution by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government shortly after coming into power in 2018 “unconstitutional.”
“Section 3 of the Punjab Local Government Act 2019 whereby the local bodies were dissolved is declared ultra vires of the Constitution and the local governments as were existing in Punjab prior to the promulgation of the Section 3 stand restored and it shall complete its term in accordance with the law,” read the short order issued by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, who headed the three-member bench hearing a petition challenging the dissolution of local government institutions.
During proceedings, the CJP slammed the “unprecedented” act of repealing laws and reintroducing them overnight, as was done by the Punjab government. “How can you explain that people should be kept away from elected representatives? Laws can be made under Article 140 but institutions cannot be abolished. Who has given you the wrong suggestion of bringing about [this] Act,” he said, adding that all forms of government—whether federal, provincial or local—have a status that cannot be violated.
The chief justice also stressed that the local body representatives had been elected for a five-year term and a provincial government could not send them packing on the basis of a notification. The full term of the local government system the PTI had dissolved was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2021.
During the hearing, Punjab government counsel Qasim Chauhan claimed one of the reasons for delaying the local government polls was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To this, Justice Ijazul Ahsan said that the elections had been set to be conducted within a year of dissolution under the Punjab Local Government Act 2019—long before the pandemic—and had subsequently been extended to 21 months through the Punjab Local Government (Amendment) Act, 2020. He noted that the Gilgit-Baltistan elections had also been conducted on time despite the pandemic.
Justice Ahsan stressed that federal, provincial, and local governments could be abolished for a limited period, but the Punjab government’s decision to delay them by nearly three years had deprived the people of their representatives.
Majority of the members of the dissolved local government bodies in Punjab belonged to the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), and observers have alleged that the PTI-led government was trying to sideline the rival party. The PTI has denied this, claiming it was merely trying to “fix” deficiencies in the local government laws prior to calling new elections.