Emotive discussions have been observed over the issues of Karachi, between the representatives of Sindh government and the Centre amidst blames and counter-blames – the recent one being the appointment of an administrator for an interim period of 120 days until the election for the mayor’s office.

Reportedly, the federal government wants an officer of their choice to be appointed against the post – a suggestion hardly acceptable to any political government in a province. The federal government is pressuring the provincial government to give a powerful local government to Karachi, not considering the present system as sufficient to manage a metropolitan city like Karachi. In this connection the Supreme Court is also seized with a constitutional petition filed by the PTI, seeking directions for the devolution of powers to local government institutions to fulfil the requirements of Article 140(A) of the Constitution as well as Articles 3, 4, 9, 14, 16, 17, 19, 19(A) and 25 by challenging the Sindh Local Government Act (SLGA).

The basic premise relied upon is that Karachi is a city with a population of 16 million (as per the 2017 census), attracting people from all over the country for seeking employment or for other reasons. “The municipal services are non-existent, there are broken roads, severe water crisis, appalling sewerage systems, heaps of garbage are everywhere while leading to ill health, diarrhoea and various life-threatening diseases, health department and government hospitals are in a pathetic state, medical facilities are not available, education is not being provided, schools are non-existent and the living conditions are pathetic, unhygienic and inhumane,” says the PTI petition.

The main reason for the deplorable situation in Karachi as cited by the party is that local bodies’ institutions had not been allowed to function in accordance with the principle of Article 140(A) of the Constitution. The deviation from that article has placed the lives of millions of people of Karachi and other areas of Sindh under threat. Such a threat can be eliminated by ensuring a local bodies’ system in line with the spirit of Article 140(A). This will also solve these problems, enabling not only the people of Karachi but also the whole of Sindh, to enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 4, 9, 15, 18, 23, 24 and 25(A) of the Constitution. The writ prayed for the issuance of directions for the Sindh government to provide funds to the local bodies of Karachi in order carry out its obligations for local governance for making the city liveable, with an additional prayer to release all the dues to the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) including the release of its share of Octroi Zila Tax (OZT).

There is no doubt that the woes of Karachi are of a greater magnitude compared to the rest of the country, requiring dispassionate analysis without point scoring and making it an ethnic issue. The problems enumerated in the writ petition are more or less the same in all parts of the country. Be it Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar or Quetta, all are caught in the same vicious circle. These cities are no paradise on earth. Even the capital city of Islamabad does not have the civic amenities as mentioned in the writ. The city not only faces shortage of water but also does not have a proper drainage system as per international standards. The moment one steps out of urban area like E-11 and steps into the adjacent area of Golra, one finds a different Pakistan, afflicted with all problems, not at all considered fit for a liveable place.  

It is therefore imperative that while taking up the matter of Karachi, a comparative analysis of local government systems of all major cities in Pakistan be done. The causes of on non-functioning of local governments must also be found and reasons for missing civic amenities should be explored; and so should the reasons for bestowing more powers to civil servants in the local government system in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and not holding elections.      

While working on the above-mentioned element, the fact that the Constitution demarcates the powers of the federation, the provinces and local government should not be ignored. The provisions relating to local governments are clear in the Constitution and over-stretching its meaning to suit centralism will do more harm than good in political terms. The constitutional provisions are not only for Sindh or for Karachi but for the whole country. As a matter of fact, the local government systems have not been functioning in Punjab and K-P for the last two years. Even under the Local Government Act, the main authority lies with commissioners, DCs and secretary local government. The same is true about Islamabad, the capital. But, these glaring omissions have not been made the topic of discussions. The question then one should ask is: why has Karachi been singled out? It is for this reason that the moves of the PTI regarding the Sindh government on this account will always be taken with a pinch of salt.

The Sindh government should also revisit its policies and laws to cater to the needs of a metropolitan city and release all the dues to the KMC including the release of its share of OZT. It is hoped that the federal government and the apex court will exercise all the caution to avoid a perception that only the Sindh government has been singled out or any decision is based on ethnicity or centralism of the federal government. Let the provincial governments enjoy its constitutional powers free from all encumbrances and local governments function within the parameters of the law.