Govt opposes polls in cantonments under existing law

ISLAMABAD: The federal government seems to be reluctant to give a definitive date for local government polls in the jurisdiction of cantonment boards and believes that elections under the existing laws will open floodgates to litigation and affect the functioning of the boards.

A statement submitted to the Supreme Court by Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Sajid Ilyas Bhatti says that holding of elections before rectifying anomalies will not be a good idea because the existing composition of the local government system in cantonment areas is undemocratic and has lost its representative character because of laws promulgated by the undemocratic regimes.

At the last hearing on March 3, a bench headed by Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani had ordered Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt to submit a written reply, giving reasons for not holding elections in the cantonment areas for the last 14 years.

The court had deplored that the government was delaying the much needed polls on the pretext of the need for legislation.

The court is hearing a 2009 petition filed by former vice president of the Cantonment Board Quetta, Raja Rab Nawaz advocate, who had challenged the absence of local government in areas under different cantonment boards. The court will resume hearing on Monday.

The government has told the court that a bill to amend the Cantonment Boards Act 1924 has been pending in the National Assembly and that the draft amendments have been prepared in consultation with the Election Commission of Pakistan.

In the fresh reply, the government said most of the identified anomalies were contrary to the constitutional provisions and other relevant laws.

Quoting an example, it said under section 58 of the Cantonment Ordinance 2002, the holding of local government elections in a cantonment area was the responsibility of the president of the cantonment board, which directly came into conflict with Article 140A of the Constitution.

The demographic character of the cantonment areas had changed its complexion as they were no more exclusively garrisons, the report said.

The presence of a number of laws (the Cantonment Act 1924, the Cantonment Local Government Election Ordinance 2002 and the Cantonment Ordinance 2002) made it difficult to hold free and fair elections in the areas as required by the Constitution, the reply said.