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NA divided over creation of two provinces

24 April, 2019

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ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly was a divided house on Tuesday when a constitution amendment bill seeking creation of South Punjab and Bahawalpur provinces was introduced.

A heated debate took place soon after the bill was introduced by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz lawmaker Rana Sanaullah with some legislators not agreeing with the idea of two provinces, whereas others came out in full support of the bill.

After Law Minister Barrister Farogh Nasim said the government had no objection to the bill, it was referred to the committee concerned by Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri, who was presiding over the sitting in the absence of Speaker Asad Qaiser on a private members’ day.

Tabling the bill, Mr Sanaullah said the bill would help in ending a sense of deprivation prevailing among the people of South Punjab. He said the bill was being introduced in line with the resolution that had already been passed by the Punjab Assembly.

The firebrand PML-N leader from Faisalabad hit out at the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) for, what he called, using the issue of new South Punjab province for election purposes. He said they heard a lot about the creation of a new province and saw making of an alliance on the issue, but later it proved to be just an election stunt.

Parliamentary leader of the ruling party and lawmaker from Multan Malik Amir Dogar said the PTI in principle supported the bill, but believed that only South Punjab province should be created. He said the PTI had promised to the people of South Punjab that it would work for the creation of the new province. As a first step, he said, the PTI government had decided to set up a civil secretariat for the new province.

He was of the opinion that the people of South Punjab had been deprived of their due rights during the previous governments under the PML-N that had done nothing for the creation of the new province.

Interestingly, the PTI’s parliamentary leader faced opposition not only from his coalition partners, but also from within his party.

Responding to Mr Dogar’s speech, federal Minister for Housing and PML-Q MNA Tariq Bashir Cheema declared that the people of Bahawalpur did not want to live with the people of the proposed South Punjab province.

“When we do not want to live with you, why do you want to forcibly keep us with you?” wondered Mr Cheema, who had been elected MNA from Bahawalpur.

“We don’t want to go under Takht-i-Multan (the throne of Multan) after coming out of Takht-i-Lahore,” the minister remarked.

He said the people of Bahwalpur had rendered great sacrifices and, therefore, their province should be restored.

Mr Cheema said two members of the National Assembly from Bahawalpur had not signed the Constitution of 1973 in protest when they found no mention of Bahawalpur province in it.

Opposing his party’s parliamentary leader, PTI MNA Farooq Azam Malik also spoke in support of Bahawalpur province. He recalled how the Nawab of Bahawalpur had announced joining Pakistan in 1947 when the Raja of Kashmir had announced succession with India at the same time. He said because of just one wrong action of an individual, they had been still fighting for Kashmir.

Mr Malik said he would continue to demand Bahawalpur province till the time he was alive. He finished his speech with the slogan Bahawalpur Sooba Zindabad (Long Live Bahawalpur Province).

The bill, which was moved by Mr Sanaullah, had been submitted by him and other PML-N leaders in January. At the time of submitting the bill, the PML-N leaders stated that they were moving the bill in line with their party’s manifesto and in the light of the already passed resolution by the Punjab Assembly in May 2012.

According to the bill, the new Bahawalpur province will comprise the current administrative Bahawalpur division whereas the south Punjab province will comprise current divisions of Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan.

The bill seeks amendment to Article 1 of the Constitution, suggesting to add the names of “Janubi (south) Punjab” and “Bahawalpur” provinces to the existing Balochistan, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Sindh.

The bill also seeks amendment to Article 51 of the Constitution proposing that after the creation of both these provinces, Bahawalpur province would have 15 general and three reserved seats for women in the National Assembly. The provincial assembly of Bahawalpur province will have a total of 39 seats. Of them, 31 would be general seats, seven reserved for women and one for religious minorities, according to the draft of the bill.

Similarly, the bill proposes that south Punjab will be represented in the National Assembly by 38 members whereas the provincial assembly of this province will comprise 80 members with 64 general seats, 14 seats reserved for women and two seats reserved for religious minorities.

The bill says that members elected from the province of Punjab prior to the creation of the two new provinces shall complete their respective terms of office. It proposes that the members of the National Assembly from the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas, elected in the general elections in 2018, and women elected on reserved seats from Punjab to the National Assembly shall continue till dissolution of the present National Assembly.

The bill also seeks amendment to Article 154 of the Constitution so that a fresh National Commission for Provinces be established to decide the boundaries and other important matters related to the provinces.

The bill has proposed an amendment to Article 175A of the Constitution to provide for principal seats for the Supreme Court and high courts for these provinces. The high court of Bahawalpur shall have its principal seat at Bahawalpur, and the high court of South Punjab shall have its principal seat at Multan, says the draft of the bill.

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