Senate panel approves bill for new province
ISLAMABAD, Feb 20: The Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice approved on Wednesday the draft of a Constitution amendment bill for the creation of Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab province amid protests by the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
The committee also approved an amendment to Article 239(4) of the Constitution to address an objection raised by the PML-N.
But there is no certainty of the bill getting approved by the house. The government introduced the bill in the Senate apparently to gain political mileage in Punjab in the coming election.
The committee had summoned Senator Farhatullah Babar, chairman of the parliamentary commission on new provinces to clarify some issues in its report.
Senators Raja Zafarul Haq and Zafar Ali Shah of the PML-N criticised the bill and termed it an election stunt of the Pakistan People’s Party.
“We wanted to know why creation of Bahawalpur province had not been recommended by the commission, could a new province be created under Article 239 and how the commission had prepared its report,” Raja Zafarul Haq said.
The committee endorsed inclusion of the word ‘creation in Article 239 which currently only allows changes in the limits of existing provinces.
Senator Babar said: “The commission had received over 2,300 communications by post and email, besides inviting 15 experts for presentations.”
All members of the National Assembly and Senate belonging to the three divisions of southern Punjab were invited to express their views on the name and boundaries of the proposed province.
The committee was informed that the commission had concluded that one province should be carved out of Punjab to address the grievances of the people of its southern region.
A resolution adopted by the Punjab Assembly had called for ‘restoration’ of Bahawalpur province.
“However, during the commission’s investigations no evidence came to surface that Bahawalpur ever had the status of a province in the past. It transpired that it was a state, like other princely states, that was merged into the then West Pakistan. After the dismemberment of ‘one unit’ it was merged in Punjab,” the commission’s chief said.
A legal challenge to the merger of Bahawalpur into Punjab also failed. It was thus felt that making this former state a separate province would give rise to demands for turning other former states, like Khairpur and Swat, into provinces.
The commission concluded that Bahawalpur should be given special consideration within the new province to address the longstanding grievances of the former state and in deference to the resolution of the Punjab Assembly calling for restoration of a non-existent province, he said.
It proposed that the new province be named as Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab with its capital in Bahawalpur. It was closer to the expression used in the resolutions adopted by the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly, Mr Babar said.
The committee was informed that the commission had prepared various possible models of the new province and adopted one comprising Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur divisions and Mianwali and Bhakkar districts.
Mr Babar said the commission considered various factors including sense of deprivation, under-development, geographical congruity, social cohesion and economic viability.
It was beyond the mandate of the commission, he added, to consider division of any other province because neither any assembly had adopted such a resolution nor the notification had asked it to do so.
The bill is likely to remain pending in the Senate till the dissolution of assemblies and will not be passed by either house of parliament.
Article 76 of the Constitution says: “A bill pending in the Senate, which has not been passed by the National Assembly, shall not lapse on the dissolution of the National Assembly,” but “a bill pending in the National Assembly, or a bill which having been passed by the National Assembly is pending in the Senate, shall lapse on the dissolution of the National Assembly.”
When contacted, Law Minister Farooq Naek said: “We have two-thirds majority in the Senate and, therefore, the bill was tabled in the house.”