LAHORE - Amid Opposition's boycott, the Punjab Assembly on Wednesday passed the Punjab Land Revenue (Amendment) Bill, 2008, to enable the Punjab government to create divisions and districts in the province, and appoint commissioners and collectors for discharge of its functions. Following a prolonged debate between the Treasury and Opposition over the controversial bill, the assembly allowed insertion of five new clauses in the existing Punjab Land Revenue Act, 1967, which, in its new form, empowers the Punjab government "to assign such functions and confer such powers upon the commissioners as it deems appropriate". Through amendment in section 9 of the Revenue Act of 1967, the provincial government may also appoint an Additional Commissioner and Additional Collector to assist the Commissioner and Collector respectively. According to an amendment in section 5 of the said Act, Punjab government may, by notification, declare as many districts in the province, with such limits and areas, as it deems appropriate. Similarly, the government may also vary the numbers and limits of a division in the province. It has been further provided for in the said new clause that a division shall consist of two or more districts, as may be specified by the govt. After passage of Punjab Land Revenue (Amendment) bill 2008, which will become an Act of the assembly after Governor's assent, the Punjab Land Revenue Ordinance, 2008 has been repealed forthwith. The Opposition in Punjab assembly, however rejected the bill, pleading that its provisions were not consistent with the Local Govt Ordinance. The opposition members maintained that a parallel system of commissioners has been put in place vis-a-vis the local governments, which enjoyed constitutional cover till 2009. The Opposition walked out of the House minutes before passage of the bill, when some of its members were not allowed to express their reservations over it by Deputy Speaker Rana Mashhood, who contended that no further discussion on the subject could be allowed under assembly rules of procedure. It merits mentioning here that when the bill was being discussed clause by clause in the House, Punjab Minister for Law, Rana Sanaulla and Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal had assured the opposition members that they would be given time at a later stage to present their view point but, deputy speaker did not honour this pledge made by the Treasury, which prompted the Opposition to stage walk out in protest. Later, talking to media outside Punjab Assembly, Leader of Opposition, Ch Zaheeruddin Ahmad announced that Opposition would challenge the amendments made in the Land Revenue Act of 1967 in court of law. He was of the view that new legislation was in contradiction with the spirit of local government system, which empowers the elected representatives at the district level to run government affairs at the gross roots level. According to him, the purpose behind amendments in the land revenue act was to restore one-and-half century old system introduced by Lord Clive in the Sub-continent. The contention of the Treasury, however, was that the legislation had nothing to do with the powers of district governments, because, in its opinion, the commissioners would be exercising the authority delegated to them by the provincial government. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaulla defended the bill, contending that neither any power of local governments has been assigned to commissioners nor any clause of the new bill was in conflict with the local govt ordinance. He said the office of commissioner would fill the missing link between the district governments and the provincial government, as it was difficult for one chief secretary to monitor the work of 35 DCOs heading various districts in the province. Commenting on Opposition's intention to move the court against amendments made by the assembly in the said Act, Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sanaulla while talking to media outside Punjab Assembly, said that it would be very unfortunate and unprecedented if one section of the assembly approached the court against its own institution. Earlier, the Opposition also criticised Punjab government's decision to empower the newly appointed commissioners to issue directions to district nazims under instructions from the chief minister. Opposition members, Mohsin Leghari and Muhammad Yar Hiraj opposed Punjab government's move, saying that elected representatives could not be made subservient to the bureaucracy. They said it was unfair and against the local govt system. The Opposition also expressed its concern over government's decision to conduct special audit of local governments through commissioners. Mohsin Leghari pleaded that under the local government ordinance, this function had been assigned to local government commission, and commissioners had no jurisdiction to exercise this power. It will give rise to conflict among the institutions, he added. Muhammad Yar Hiraj said that local government system was about self-rule through elected representatives of people, whereas commissioner system was in total negation of this concept, which enjoyed worldwide recognition. Responding to objections raised by opposition members, law minister told the House that under section 128 and 129 of the local government ordinance, the chief executive of the province had been authorised to direct the nazims through chief secretary or any other authority to carry out his instructions over any issue. Punjab Minister for Finance, Tanvir Ashraf Kaira, on a point of order, clarified that special audit of local governments has been ordered by the provincial finance department under Finance Act and not under the local government ordinance.