Upazila Parishad

Upazila Parishad The historical antecedents of Upazila Parishad (UZP) resulted from the recommendations of the Committee for Administrative Reform, and Reorganization (CARR) constituted by the military government of General ershad of 1982-90. In point of fact it was a lineal document of Thana Development and Coordination Council (TDCC) set up under the Basic Democracies Order, 1959 which resulted from the Comilla Experiment on Rural Development conceptualized and advocated by late akhter hameed khan, the founder-director of bangladesh academy for rural development (BARD) located in the district of Comilla. The concept and practice of TDCC was incorporated into the law by the military government of Field Marshall Ayub Khan. Basic to the original concept was to put in place a public-private partnership consisting of government functionaries at Thana level and the locally elected chairmen of Union Councils now called the Union Parishad.

The major difference between Upazila Parishad and the erstwhile TDCC were mainly two. First, the chairman of TDCC used to be the then Sub divisional Officers (SDO) in their respective jurisdictions as chairmen and the Circle Officers (Development) as vice-chairmen with membership from the thana level officers and the chairmen of union councils falling within the respective jurisdictions of a thana. It was open to criticism as being dominated by administrative functionaries. On a more substantive plane, the criticism centered on its political ingredient in that members of the then union councils were part of the electoral college to elect the President. Thus was it that the military ruler, the army chief, sought to stay in power. The mainstream opposition parties like the Awami League and other democratically oriented parties stiffly opposed the system of electoral college structure. The movement for restoration of democracy in the then Pakistan consisting of political parties in both the wings of Pakistan finally led to its abolition in 1969.

The constitutional provision of a local government structure envisioned the management of the affairs of local councils by elected persons. The Constitution also provided for setting up of locally elected councils at every administrative unit of Bangladesh. This vision was not, however, realized by any government until 1984 even though the Administrative and Services Reorganization Committee (ASRC) (1972) recommended such a course of action. Consistent with the constitutional vision, the ASRC recommended to implement the vision.

These recommendations of the ASRC received approval of the government in 1982 and the process of implementation was completed in phases by 1984 through 1986. The Upazila Parishad law known as the Local Government (Thana Parishad and Thana Reorganization) Ordinance 1982 as amended in 1983 renaming Thana Parishad as Upazila Parishad that followed, provided for a directly elected chairman based on one man one vote principle. The local level government functionaries were made non-voting members while the elected union parishad chairmen became members with voting rights. First election forming Upzila Parishad by electing a chairman was held in 1985 and after the expiry of five years term of the Upazila Parishad second election was held in 1990 for reconstituting Upazila Parishad by electing the chairman. The age-old administrative unit called sub-divisions forming part of a district with the SDO as the chief administrative functionary were abolished and most of the sub-divisions were upgraded to the status of district. This also included some erstwhile thanas. In popular and administrative parlance, the term upgraded districts and upgraded thanas came to be used.

Immediately prior to its inception, there were strong opposition to the introduction of upazila system by all the political parties divided into what is called the 11-party alliance led by the Awami League (AL) and the 7-party alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Their public stand on the issue was that it was part of the constitutional scheme of things and, therefore, must be left to the elected government. This was further buttressed by the argument that the division of functions between the central government and the local government was an issue on which national consensus through a duly elected Jatiya Sangsad was necessary. Implicit in this line of reasoning lay the lurking fear of all opposition political parties that the proposal was to create a rural power-base for the military government. The military government of General Ershad, however, succeeded in carrying forward the implementation process by putting in place the Upazila Parishad.

Consequent upon the movement of 1989-90 for the resignation of the government of General Ershad, the Upazila system was abolished following the installation of an elected government with BNP in power in 1991 by the Local Government (Upazila Parishad and Upazila Administration Reorganization) (Repeal) Ordinance 1991. After challenge the vires of the Ordinance was upheld by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in Qudrat-E-Elahi Pani';s Case (44, DLR (AD) 319). Even before the abolition, controversies arose on the issue of role of members of Jatiya Sangsad in Upazila Parishad and the functional relationship between the Upazila Nirbahi Officers and the elected chairmen centering on the process of administrative decision-making. Subsequently Awami League Government enacted Upazila Parishad Act 1998 by repealing the 1991 Ordinance for constituting Upazila Parishad but no election was held under that Act.

The Committee for strengthening local government bodies and making them more dynamic constituted by the Non-Party Caretaker Government (NCG) in 2007, recommended that (a) Members of Jatiya Sangsad be excluded from any role in Upazila Parishads which was not in line with the recommendations of two successive Local Government Commissions constituted by BNP after 1991 and that recommended by the AL after 1996. In pursuance of such recommendation the Local Government (Upazila Parishad) Ordinance 2008 was promulgated.

The above committee (2007) also recommended the establishment of a permanent Local Government Commission with independent legal powers for oversight functions over all tiers of local government. The law eventually led to the formation of a Local Government Commission which, however, was later annulled by the elected government of 2009.

Thus it was that the issue of elected Upazila Parishad remained out of the ambit of local government structure only to be revived by the NCG on which there were some differences between it and the major political parties. Ultimately, Upazila Parishad law was changed by the subsequent elected government led by AL making the Members of Jatiya Sangsad advisers with some executive powers by enacting the Upazila Parishad (Reintroduction of the Repealed Act and Amendment) Act 2008. This Act repealed earlier Ordinance of 2008 and reintroduced 1998 Act with certain amendments. This resulted in stiff opposition from the elected chairmen of upazilas. This also brought into the surface the conflict between chairmen and the Sangsad members. The latest reports of the media indicate that the government is seriously considering steps to resolve the issue. [AMM Shawkat Ali]

See also upazila parishad act, 2009.