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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Delimitation of constituencies: Has Punjab government violated law?

Has the provincial government attempted to introduce new delimitations before the local bodies’ elections? Are they in violation of the law?

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has expressed some reservations over the way Punjab government introduced the demarcation of cities through various notifications. The matter in Pakistan has always been of paramount importance since political parties determine delimitation before the elections in a way that best suits them. However, the current ECP seems to be “more” independent and empowered to exert itself.

Dawn, Pakistan’s respected English Language newspaper, reported on Wednesday that delimitation of constituencies was the constitutional mandate of the ECP but the Punjab government appears to be carrying out delimitation of constituencies for local government elections in the name of demarcation. “They appear to be confused between delimitation and demarcation,” a senior official of the ECP told media.

He said the commission would hold a meeting on Dec 20 to discuss the apparent encroachment on its domain and summon the secretary of local government next week to explain the provincial government’s position.

Read more: PPP and PTI furious over PML-N’s controversial delimitation recommendations

Moreover, the ECP has also written a letter to the provincial election commissioner of Punjab seeking various documents including notification of urban and rural local areas notified by the Punjab government, number of metropolitan corporations, tehsil councils, municipal corporations, municipal committees, town committees, neighborhood councils and number of villages and panchayat councils in the province etc.

The official said that 100 percent delimitation in urban areas was to be carried out by the ECP. He said the notified revenue circles in rural areas formed a local council, but the decision on where to place small settlements that were not part of a moza was to be taken by the ECP. “We will see if they have done this on their own,” he remarked.

Read more: Constitutional Amendment Bill for fresh delimitations: from government’s actions to the opposition’s reactions

The local government and community development department of the Punjab government has issued various notifications demarcating areas in different districts across the province, citing sections of the recently passed Punjab local Government Act, the Punjab Village, Panchayats, and Neighbourhood Councils Act, 2019, and Punjab demarcation, classification, and naming of local areas rules.

What does the law say?

Under Article 222 (b) of the Constitution, the parliament is to provide by law for the delimitation of constituencies by the ECP.

Section 221 (1) of the Elections Act, 2017 reads: “For the purpose of holding elections to the local governments, the Commission shall delimit constituencies of the local governments, including union councils, wards in a union council, a ward in a district council or ward in a municipal committee, as far as possible and subject to necessary modifications…..”.

Some of the ‘orders’ passed by the Punjab government cite sections 8 and 9 of the Punjab Local Government Act, 2019, and rule 29 of the Punjab demarcation, classification and naming of rural areas, 2019, while some notifications have been issued under section 3 of Punjab Village, Panchayats and Neighborhood Councils Act, 2019.

Read more: Deadlock over delimitation bill may delay elections

Section 8 (1) of the Punjab Local Government Act reads: “As soon as may be, but not later than six months of the commencement of this Act, the Government shall by an order published in the official gazette divide all areas comprising the Punjab, (except cantonments and other areas under active possession and direct control of the armed forces), into urban and rural local areas, identify limits of each local area, having regard to the provision of section 9 of this act, classify each urban area and name each local area.”

Under section 8 (2) all areas comprising a tehsil, excluding areas notified as cantonments and urban local areas, shall be the local areas of that tehsil. Section 8 (3) reads: “As far as may be, each local area shall be compact, contiguous and constitute a territorial unity” while according to section 8 (4) each local area is to constitute territorial jurisdiction of the respective local government.

Under section 9(1) of the Act, an area that displays distinct urban features may either be classified as a metropolitan area, a municipality or a town. Section 8 (2) provides details of the nine metropolitan areas in Punjab including Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Multan, Rawalpindi, Sahiwal, Sargodha and all areas comprising the district of Lahore.

Under the following subsections, minimum population benchmarks have been set to classify areas as municipality, towns and municipal corporations.

Read more: Electioneering gains momentum in different constituencies

Section 3 (1) of the Punjab village panchayats and neighborhood council rules, 2019 reads: “The Government shall, by notification in the official gazette, demarcate villages within the local areas, excluding the cantonments and urban local areas…” Section A (2) of the rules reads: “The Election Commission may, in the process of delimitation, consider the demarcation of villages under section 3”.

The PTI’s provincial government is yet to respond to the matter.