Building control body Punjab govt jumps the ‘warning signals’

LAHORE, Dec 20: The Punjab government is bent upon establishing the Divisional Building Control Authority despite objections by its own departments that are declaring it an arrangement that will add to the confusion.

The draft law of the authority has reportedly been approved by the Punjab Assembly’s relevant standing committee. Sources on Thursday hinted at its adoption during the current session.

The government had decided to establish the authority under direction from the Supreme Court which wanted to end confusion about building control in the province being caused by the fact that the function was being simultaneously performed by the district governments and the development authorities.

The departments concerned and some legal experts in the government are declaring the new arrangement no solution to the problem.

According to them, building control is the function of the district governments under the Local Government Ordinance 2001 which is still in force. But the development authorities, mainly the Lahore Development Authority, continued to share the job with the district governments (TMAs) in spite of the fact that they had to come under the administrative and financial control of the district governments under the same law.

The development authorities were never put under the district governments because the rulers had been using their income and manpower useful for themselves.The duality of the function led to a great confusion as to who would control what and where. The confusion was taken note of after the Kharak factory fire incident. It transpired that the factory’s first building plan was approved by the LDA. The Iqbal Town TMA later allowed this structure to be demolished and approved another building plan for the factory which on paper was a house.

Taking it as a grave irregularity, the Supreme Court had directed the provincial government to do away with the duality of functions and assign the building control to a single authority.

Several proposals were considered and rejected because of objections from the local government and housing departments, and the LDA. Finally, the proposal to set up a divisional level authority was approved by the chief minister while agreeing to a draft law for the new local government system in the country.

The new local government law was tabled in the Punjab Assembly and is still pending a decision by the standing committee.

In the meantime, officials began designing the divisional committees under commissioners amidst a tussle between the local government and the housing departments as to who would head them (the committees). This was in addition to the stiff resistance by the LDA.

Right now, officials said, the government had decided to place the committees under the administrative control of the LG department. But the committees would not solely wield the building control authority in the presence of the LDA’s similar role.

And duality of functions by the LDA and the divisional committees would defeat the idea of a single controlling body.

They said basically the town planning and building control were the function of local councils. The town planning was the basic and superior function and the building control, its offshoot or subordinate function.

And giving the second (the lesser one) to the provincially controlled divisional committees would make the town planning district governments superior to the province.

“This violates the governmental chain of command. As per rules, the provincial government performs superior functions and the district councils follow them. But in this case, the district governments will plan towns (give policy) and the provincially controlled committees control buildings in its light,” remarked a senior official.

He also said the town planning was a money-spending function and building control a money-earning source. And the divisional committees would mean robbing the local councils of their major source of income which it needed for town planning.

“The Supreme Court had asked for a unified arrangement, and not the committees which are being imposed. It is right time the decision was revisited to avoid confusion,” he remarked.

When asked, he said the best solution could be to establish a unified building control system in the district governments or councils rather than allowing the TMAs and the LDA to independently perform it, or the divisional committees and the LDA to wield the same powers and clash with each other.