The Supreme Court on Tuesday came close to issuing a contempt notice to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after it rejected a government plea stating that an ordinance to hold local government elections in all 43 cantonment boards of the country was ready.
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“This is enough for us to issue (contempt) notice as our orders prima facie appear to not have been implemented,” retorted Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, who headed a three-judge bench.
The court had taken up the implementation of its March 19, 2014, judgment which had vested the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) with the authority of carrying out delimitation of constituencies and then holding the local government elections in Sindh and Punjab. The court also heard a contempt of court petition filed by former Quetta Cantonment Board (Balochistan) vice president Advocate Raja Rab Nawaz. The last local government elections in cantonment areas were held in Oct 1998. On March 19, the court came out with a judgment empowering the ECP to complete all processes within five months of the date of the verdict and hold elections by Nov 15, 2014. On Feb 27, the apex court had called the attorney general to assist it in determining whether the court should hold the prime minister guilty of not implementing its order to hold local government elections in the cantonment boards. “The ordinance is ready, we are only awaiting prorogation of the sessions of the National Assembly as well as the Senate,” an anxious Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt assured the court on Tuesday, adding that the ordinance would be promulgated within 24 hours of the proroguing of both houses of parliament.
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But the court was not amused. “No diligence has been done,” observed Justice Khawaja. The AG said a bill to amend the Cantonments Boards Act 1924 had been pending before the National Assembly since Dec 5, 2013. It was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Defence when tabled before the house. Since the amendment was not taken up by the assembly for a considerable length of time, the government then resorted to promulgating a similar ordinance, which was sent for the approval of the prime minister. But the Prime Minister’s Office returned it to the law ministry to seek its opinion since a bill of a similar nature was pending before parliament, the AG argued. “It does not seem to be appealing,” Justice Khawaja retorted, adding this was enough for the court to issue a contempt notice. “We know the sensitivity of this case and that such matters cannot be taken casually, but try to understand that people have suffered long enough and the court cannot sit like bystanders,” the judge observed. “But we will issue contempt notice (against the prime minister) if we are required to,” Justice Khawaja observed before he postponed further proceedings until Wednesday since petitioner Rab Nawaz was not present in court. The court asked the petitioner to appear on Wednesday.
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The Supreme Court also received a letter highlighting the problems being faced by people in the absence of local government, which was also mentioned in court on Tuesday. After reading about last Friday’s proceedings in the newspaper, Mohammad Ismail had written to the court. Without mentioning which city Ismail was writing from, Justice Khawaja deplored that the union council concerned was asking the complainant to pay Rs5,000 in bribes to get an attested Form-B – a legal document dealing with the registration of children that Ismail needs to secure school admission for his daughter. Had there been local bodies’ elections, he could get hold of the zila nazim for the redressal of his grievance, Ismail had regretted in his letter. “We want to know the reasons why the people have been deprived of their right to franchise and why they are running from pillar to post,” the court observed, adding that someone should remove the misconception among the minds of the people that they were nobody, not even the third grade citizens of this country.