LAHORE - Although the Lahore High Court took up a number of petitions during the outgoing week, multi-billion rupees Orange Line gained the prime focus.

Since last week, the LHC was moved against continuation of work on the Orange Line Metro Train project "in defiance" of the restraining order and government’s emergency policy for acquiring land for other projects in three divisions of Punjab.

The metro train project attracted immense ire and unrest among the citizens as they held marathon protest against it which has cost them humble livelihood and residence, in addition to huge travelling and communication problems. The government wished to push up Orange Line while the people cried for the safety of the shelters, civil society put preservations of the national heritage and credits to safeguard the business.

In this dolorous tale of ‘atrocity’, the judiciary came up to rescue the people and restrained the government from carrying out the project unless the viable solution is found out to satisfy all the stake holders. The project is unprecedented but the hardships it caused to the people are also unmatched.

A number of petitioners also approached the Lahore High Court for safety of their homes and businesses against development projects including a degree college for women in Narowal, Aashiana Housing, Lahore, District Hospital Bhawana, Sialkot etc being built in three divisions including Lahore, Faisalabad and Gujranwala. They pleaded the court that the government had imposed emergency like situation and forcing them to leave their homes and shops immediately, so that it could complete these projects.

The court, after hearing the arguments of both sides, reserved verdict which is likely to be announced during the next week.

Besides all that, four political parties including Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) filed separate petitions challenging the Local Government Ordinance 2016. They termed the ordinance against the spirit of democracy and against the Constitution of Pakistan.

The political leaders pointed out that the independent candidates had been subjected to legislative coercion and undue influence by ruling party (PML-N) wherein they are elected to remain free of political affiliation.

Submitting that Article 226 of the Constitution postulates the secret process of election devoid of undue influence, they said that method of open division (show of hand) while electing the chairman/mayors is a potentially dangerous method for the independent candidates with weaker limbs as opposed to the major political players in higher elections.

The high court was informed that the post legislative strategy of the provincial government to manipulate results of the election by substantial changes is highly objectionable, and repugnant to the Constitution.

Therefore, the political parties prayed to the court to declare the impugned amendments in the law null and void and restrain Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) from conducting the forthcoming elections for the reserved seats as well as mayors, deputy mayors, chairmen, vice chairmen of the district councils under the impugned ordinance.

However, when a law officer informed the court that the ordinance had been presented before the Punjab Assembly for approval, therefore, the petitions had become infructuous (unfruitful) and should be dismissed. The court, however, put off further hearing till the session of the Punjab Assembly is over.

The matter of freedom fighter Bhagat Sindh and Hazrat Ghazi Ilmuddin Shaheed was also taken up by a division bench of the court headed by Justice Muhammad Khalid Mehmood Khan. The bench requested the Chief Justice to constitute a larger bench for its hearing, which is likely to be formed during the next week.

Imtiaz Rasheed Qureshi of Bhagat Singh Memorial Foundation filed an application for early hearing of two petitions. In one petition, Mr Qureshi said Bhagat Singh was a freedom fighter and fought for independence of sub-continent. Singh was hanged by British rulers on March 23, 1931, after being tried under charges of hatching a conspiracy against the regime.

Mr Qureshi said Singh was initially jailed for life but later awarded death sentence in another ‘fabricated’ case.

In other petition, on behalf of Save Judiciary Committee, Qureshi stated that a prejudiced bench comprising then LHC non-Muslim judges awarded death sentence to Ghazi Ilamuddin Shaheed in 1929 for killing a Hindu publisher for disgracing Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

In both cases, the petitioner wanted the court to set aside the sentences of Ghazi and Singh by exercising principles of review and order government to honour them with posthumous state awards.

During the week, the LHC also admitted for regular hearing a petition of Opposition Leader in Punjab Assembly, questioning non-presentation of audit reports of district governments of the province before Public Accounts Committee. The court, earlier, asked the government’s counsel as to why the governor and chief minister were not complying with directions of the court with respect to the submission of audit reports of district governments.

A law officer told the court that the petition against governor and the CM was not maintainable as they enjoyed immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution. Citing a judgment of the Supreme Court, petitioner’s counsel Sheraz Zaka argued that writ petition was maintainable against the governor and chief minister if a matter pertained to violation of constitutional obligations.

At this, the court admitted the petition for regular hearing and issued notices to the government for next week.

On last hearing, the court had directed Punjab Governor and Chief Minister to present audit reports on accounts of district governments before Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the provincial assembly. The court had also sought a compliance report.

Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed, the opposition leader, said in his petition that the audit reports of district governments of the Punjab had never been presented to the PAC nor laid before the house. Section 108 of Punjab Local Government Act, 2013 says the audit reports of the auditor general shall be considered by the PAC.

Mr Rasheed said the PAC was the main instrument of parliamentary system and its strengthening was essential to ensure accountability of public funds and good governance, which would eventually eliminate corruption from the public sector.

Singer-turned-politician Ibrar-ul-Haq also filed a petition in the LHC seeking directions for the health department to issue him NOC for construction of a medical college. The court sought reply from the department and adjourned further hearing until Feb 16.

In another case against Punjab Revenue Department, the LHC restrained it from collecting tax from farmers on agriculture income while a division bench suspended decision of a single bench in which Punjab Revenue Authority was set aside on the ground after it was informed that the Punjab Assembly had approved the authority to collect tax.