New province to have two high courts?
ISLAMABAD: The people living in areas proposed to be the part of Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab (BJP) will have a unique opportunity to approach two separate high courts for resolution of their legal disputes if the report of the controversial parliamentary commission is adopted by parliament as it is.
The draft of the constitutional amendment bill attached to the report of the commission laid before the National Assembly on Friday shows a lacuna—the omission of an important article about functioning of provincial high courts which requires an amendment to give effect to the proposal of creating a new province.
The commission suggested nine amendments to six articles of the Constitution, but made no mention of Article 198(3), which states that “the Lahore High Court (LHC) shall have a bench each at Bahawalpur, Multan and Rawalpindi”.
Constitutional experts said if Article 198(3) was not amended, the benches of the LHC would continue to function in Bahawalpur and Multan. This would cause an anomaly since a province cannot house two high courts simultaneously.
When attention of PML-N Senator Syed Zafar Ali Shah was drawn towards this omission, he said this showed that the report had been prepared in haste. He said the PML-N believed that the commission was illegal and unconstitutional and its report had no significance.
Mr Shah said the commission had also left a number of other important matters unresolved, making it impossible to even create the province suggested by it.
He said the PPP government was not sincere and serious in carving out new provinces and was doing all this as an ‘election stunt’.
Chairman of the commission, Farhatullah Babar, admitted that Article 198 need to be amended, but termed the omission in its report a ‘non-issue’.
He said the article could be amended whenever the amendment bill seeking creation of the province was voted upon.
The parliamentary commission in its report suggested creation of a new province to be called ‘Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab’ comprising Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Gazi Khan divisions and Bhakkar and Mianwali districts.
The commission report says that Articles 1, 51, 59, 106, 175-A and 218 “would require amendment in order to give effect to the proposal of creating the new province of BJP from the existing province of the Punjab.”
The name of the new province will become a part of the Constitution through amending Article 1 titled “the republic and its territories”.
The changes in the composition of National and provincial assemblies will be made in the Constitution through amendments to Articles 51 and 106.
The draft of the bill suggests that the provincial assembly of the proposed province will comprise 123 members – 98 general and 25 reserved seats for women and minorities. The province will be represented by 59 members–47 general and 12 reserved seats—in the 342-member National Assembly.
It says the representation of the present Punjab in the National Assembly will be reduced from 183 to 124 whereas the present 371-member Punjab Assembly will be reduced to a 248-member house after its division into two provinces.
The draft bill also suggests amendment to Article 59 of the Constitution, which deals with composition of Senate and where every province has equal representation.
At present, the Senate consists of 104 members – 23 from each province, eight from Fata and four from Islamabad. After addition of 23 seats from Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab, the Senate seats will increase to 127.
In order to establish a high court in the new province, the parliamentary commission has suggested amendment to Article 175-A which deals with the “appointment of judges to the Supreme Court, high courts and the Federal Shariat Court”.
Similarly, the parliamentary commission has also suggested amendment to Article 218 of the Constitution which deals with the composition and functions of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
The new province will also be represented by a member in the ECP, thus the number of the members will increase to five from existing four members.