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Absolute authority of UNOs over UZ chairmen ends

Published : 29 Mar 2023 10:26 PM

Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNOs) will no longer have absolute authority over chairmen of upazila parishads across the country as per a judgment of the High Court.

The High Court in the judgment has declared the Section 33 of the ‘Upazila Parishad Act’ that allows UNOs to perform duty as chief executive officers in upazila parishads illegal and unconstitutional.

The HC bench of Justice Farah Mahbub and Justice Ahmed Sohel pronounced the judgment on Wednesday (March 29) after hearing two writ petitions.

In the judgment, the higher court said that the Section 33 of the ‘Upazila Parishad Act’ is contradictory to articles 59 and 60 of the country’s constitution.

As a result of the judgement, the UNOs will no longer have absolute authority over upazila parishad chairmen, said lawyers who argued for the writ petitions in the court.

Barrister Azmalul Hossain QC, Barrister Hasan MS Azim and Md Minhaduzzaman Liton stood for the writ petitions, while Deputy Attorney General Samarendra Nath Biswas represented the state.

The lawyers said that writing Upazila Administration instead of Upazila Parishad in invitation letters was also declared illegal by the court.

“From now the UNOs have to provide secretarial support to the upazila parishad and remain accountable to the parishad,” said HC in its observation.

However, the HC won’t interfere in the role of committees formed by the upazila parishad under section 29 of the Upazila Parishad Act.

Barrister Hasan MS Azim said that giving more power to an executive officer over an elected representative in the upazila parishad is against the country’s constitution. The court also issued a rule on the validity of circulars issued at different times, as the UNO will act as the president and the Upazila Chairman will be the adviser in various committees of the upazila.

 One of the writ petitions was filed on December 7 in 2020, challenging the aforementioned section of the Upazila Parishad Act.

 President of Upazila Parishad Association and Dumki Upazila Chairman Harun-or-Rashid, its general secretary Manohordi Upazila Chairman Saiful Islam Khan Biru, Gazipur Sadar Upazila Chairman Rina Parveen, Kaliakair Upazila Vice chairman Selim Ahmed and Chouddagram Upazila Vice Chairman Rasheda Akhter filed the writ petition.

 Advocate Minhaduzzaman Liton also filed another writ petition in this regard.

 In 2011, the High Court issued a rule asking the government to explain as to why the section 33 of Upazila Parishad Act should not be declared illegal and contradictory to the article 7, 59 and 60 of the constitution.

 Fifteen secretaries including the secretaries to the Cabinet Division and Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives Ministry were made respondents to the rule.

 The section of the law states: “An upazila nirbahi officer shall be the chief executive officer of an upazila parishad, and he or she shall provide it with secretarial support.”

 According to the ‘Upazila Parishad Act’, upazila chairmen hold executive power to run the local affairs. But UNOs exercise main power instead of upazila chairmen.

 As a result, Upazila Parishads across the country can’t function properly and provide expected services to the people.

 The upazila system was introduced in 1982 by HM Ershad during his regime. The system collapsed with the fall of Ershad in 1990.

 In 1998, the then Awami League government enacted a law to reintroduce the upazila system but no election was held. The military-backed caretaker government promulgated the Upazila Parishad Ordinance, 2008 repealing the Upazila Parishad Act, 1998 and reintroduced the upazila system in the country.