LAHORE - Amid strong protest by the Opposition, Punjab Assembly on Tuesday passed two Bills aiming at replacing the existing Local Bodies with a new two-tier Local Government system to be enforced in urban and the rural areas.

Punjab Local Government Bill, 2019 and Punjab Panchayats and Neighbourhood Councils Bill, 2019 will come into effect as soon as Punjab Governor gives his assent. Consequently, the present Local Government representatives would lose their positions after the Bill becomes an Act of the Assembly.

Punjab Government plans to hold elections for the new Local Bodies within one year. The government will appoint administrators during the interim period to run the affairs of existing Local Bodies. It is also considering allocating Rs 40 billion for the new set up in the upcoming provincial budget. 

Opposition staged strong protest inside the House for government’s refusal to accommodate their amendments in the two Bills.

Panchayats and Neighbourhood Councils bill also passed

Opposition members insisted on having debate on their amendments though they had not submitted them in the Assembly Secretariat within the stipulated time.

They accused the government of bulldozing their amendments pleading they were not provided copies of the two Bills on time.

PML-N legislator Muhammad Ahmad Khan took the plea that since the report of the Standing Committee on Local Government was not made available to them on time, they could not prepare their amendments.

He pleaded before the Chair that Opposition should be allowed to present its amendments regarding the two Bills.

Punjab Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Muhammad Basharat Raja told the Chair that Opposition failed to submit its amendments on time and thus lost the right to have debate over them. Quoting Rule 150 of the Assembly Rules of Procedure, the Law Minister said that Opposition’s amendments had no legal standing whatsoever.

He, however, said that the govt had accommodated some of their amendments. It is on Opposition’s demand that tenure of the new Local Governments has been fixed as four years, he said.

The Minister also stated that govt could not take dictation from any political party since it was its Constitutional right to do legislation in public interest. 

Law Minister’s speech prompted the Opposition Benches to get harsh at the Treasury.

Speaker Parvez Elahi did not allow Samiullah Khan of the PML-N to speak during this debate.

He was angry at the legislator for his remarks calling the Speaker an SHO (Station House Officer).

Speaker also warned that he would suspend his Assembly membership if he did not stop talking without his permission. 

Speaker gave the floor to Waris Kallu instead.  Kallu told the Chair that Local Government Bill was being passed in great haste without seeking input from the Opposition. Kallu recalled that PML-N had allowed two-month long debate on the Local Government Bill during its tenure in 2013.

Law Minister responded by stating that it was also a fact that Local Governments at that time had starting functioning two years after the enactment of the Local Government law.

Dr Mazhar Iqbal suspected that govt will not hold elections to the Local Bodies and the funds allocated for them would be utilised by the provincial government.

Many more Opposition members wanted to speak but the Speaker started taking up the Bill clause by clause for its passage through voice vote.

All Opposition members stood on their seats and started chanting slogans.

They tore apart copies of the Bills and tossed them up in the air. Waris Kallu and Malik Arshad of the PML-N got close to Speaker’s dice as the protest intensified.

Later, the entire Opposition left the House leaving behind a trail of noisy sloganeering.

The Treasury passed the two Bills in its absence with great ease. Speaker adjourned the House till Thursday upon completion of day’s agenda. 

The new legislation envisages a two-tier system for the urban and rural areas. Urban Local Governments will consist of Metropolitan Corporations, Municipal Corporations and Municipal Committees depending on the size of the population of various cities.

The seats of general Councillors, religious minorities and women will also vary accordingly. 

The rural areas will have Tehsil Councils. The number of seats for these Councils will also vary depending on size of the population. There would be no District Councils in the new set up.

The second tier consists of Panchayats and Neighbourhood Councils for rural and urban areas respectively.

While there would be no condition of educational qualification for the new Local Government representatives, party-based elections would be held at upper level and non-party based elections for the Neighbourhood Councils and Panchayats.

Functions like domestic water supply including construction, maintenance and repairs of wells, water pumps, ponds, tanks and pipes will be performed by the Panchayats.

They would also be responsible for provision of relief during calamities and emergencies.

They would also address to the issues of public health including inoculations and epidemic control and universal education including measures for enhancing enrollment in schools and provision of stipends and scholarship to the students.

Collection and disposal of domestic waste would also fall within their domain. Besides, there is a long list of small functions which the Panchayats would be performing at the local level.

The Neighbourhood Councils in urban areas have been assigned more or less the same functions as assigned to the Panchayats. They would support the Local Governments (the first tier) for removal of encroachments and prevention of illegal trespass over public properties and disposal of domestic waste.

They would also deal with the subject of population welfare and population control issues.