LAHORE - The Punjab health minister strongly defended the Punjab Local Government Bill 2013 as provincial assembly opened discussion on the bill on Monday.

Health Minister Khalil Tahir Sindhu said the new LG law envisages a foolproof system to settle disputes at the local level in urban and rural areas through panchayats and masalehti committees, each comprising five members. He said on receiving serious charges of corruption or any violation of the rules and regulations, the chief minister, on the recommendation of the local municipal commission, would be empowered to suspend a mayor or a district council chairman. He said a fair representation had been given to the opposition to ensure neutrality and impartiality of the commission.

Sindhu said the elected members had been given representation in the district health authority and the district education authority. He said the elected members would also elect chairmen of these authorities. The minister told the House that a metropolitan corporation would be established in Lahore city while there would union councils and district councils in rural areas. He said district Lahore and others would have municipal corporations and municipal committees.

The health minister made it clear that chairmen and vice chairmen having joint candidature at union council level would be elected on the basis of a single ward while a five-member UC would be directly elected, in addition to a woman, a peasant and a minority member to be elected indirectly. He said a district council would have joint candidature of chairman and vice chairman while all relevant UCs would also be ex-officio members of a district council for the purpose of their election, adding a district council would not have women members more than 15 (on the basis of population of the district council). In addition, peasant and minority members, five each, would be elected indirectly.

Opposition member Dr Murad Rass, taking the floor, said the proposed law was going to provide different LG system for rural and urban area, which was contrary to its spirit. He said urban-rural division would push the province back instead of taking it forward. He also termed it contrary to the spirit of democracy as the basic unit of the LG institutions would be set up directly but chairmen and vice chairmen would be elected indirectly. He called for direct election of mayors, deputy mayors, chairmen and vice chairmen otherwise, fearing in their indirect election money and political influence would play a pivotal role.

He pointed out that the proposed law was silent over the question whether the LG elections would be party-based or non-party-based. It was silent over what procedure would be adopted for delimitation of wards and constituencies, he added.

Sardar Shahabuddin of PPP, speaking to the house, said if the LG law, if tested on the touchstone of Article 128 of the Constitution, would sound carrying many unconstitutional provisions. He said PML-N was bound under the Charter of Democracy to hold the LG polls on party basis, but the law was silent on this point. He said the 18th Constitutional Amendment envisaged devolution of power to districts, but the proposed law did not fulfill this need in letter and spirit. He demanded incorporation of from the opposition’s proposals in the new law.