ISLAMABAD, Feb 1: The National Assembly saw only isolated protests, and no major outburst, as it received on Friday a controversial parliamentary commission’s report for the creation of a new province in south Punjab, though the fate of a proposed constitution amendment bill to do this remained uncertain.
The main opposition to the proposed Bahawalpur Junoobi Punjab province, aimed to ameliorate perceived deprivations of southern Punjab, comes from the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party, which rules Punjab, and it announced filing a privilege motion with the National Assembly secretariat to challenge the scheme of the commission which it had boycotted.
But perhaps for fear of a backlash in south Punjab, it did not mount a major protest inside the chamber after the commission’s report along with a proposed constitution amendment bill was formally laid before the house and did not join a furious spectacle of one of its lawmakers, Humair Hayat Khan Rokri, who tore up the report, threw hundreds of its pieces around and walked out alone after protesting against the inclusion of his home district of Mianwali in the proposed province.
However, PML-N lawmakers had joined Mr Rokri in a protest token walkout earlier after Nadeem Afzal Gondal of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), then chairing the house, disallowed him to be the first to speak while he had already given floor to Sajid Ahmed of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) to speak about the latest violence in Karachi in resuming an inconclusive law and order debate after the question hour was suspended for the day.
“This is not the proper way, (tearing) assembly documents. It is violation of rules,” Mr Gondal remarked as Mr Rokri stormed out of the house, but took no action for the demeanour.
Members of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, the smaller opposition party, also staged a walkout much afterwards with a colleague from Hazara division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Laeq Mohammad Khan, who protested against non-acceptance of demands for a Hazara province.
There was no indication yet about when the house, which is due to continue its present session until Feb 8 and resume on Feb 18, would hold a likely debate on the report or take up the proposed Constitution (Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, which says the new province must comprise territories of Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan divisions and the adjoining districts of Mianwali and Bhakkar.
The constitution amendment bill must be passed by two-thirds majorities in both the 342-seat National Assembly and the 104-seat Senate and approved also by 371-seat Punjab assembly before President Asif Ali Zardari could sign it.
The PPP-led coalition once had two-thirds majority in the lower house but seems to have lost it now, but retains it in the Senate, while the Punjab assembly is dominated by the PML-N and its allies.
The commission was set up by National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza on August 16, 2012, in pursuance of what was called a “message” from the president after unanimous adoption, in May, of one resolution on the subject by the National Assembly and two by the Punjab provincial assembly.
While the National Assembly demanded the creation of a “Junoobi Punjab” province of Seraiki-speaking districts of south Punjab and called upon the Punjab assembly to present a bill seeking a needed amendment of the constitution, one provincial assembly resolution endorsed the call for a province of the same name, and the other called what it called “restoration” of “former Bahawalpur province” — both demanding of the federal government to set up a “national commission” to demarcate boundaries of the new provinces and their share in resources.
But the commission says in its report that during its investigations and study “no evidence came to surface that Bahawalpur ever had the status of a province in the past” other than a princely state that was merged with former West Pakistan, and argued that making it a province would “give rise to demands for making former states of Khairpur, Swat and many others as provinces as well”.
However, the report said it was felt that Bahawalpur should be given “special consideration within the new province” to address “long-standing grievances and house the new provincial capital”.
Among its reasons for the alleged “serious breach of privilege” of the house, PML-N privilege motion cites non-consideration of Bahawalpur as a province as well as constitution of a parliamentary commission rather than a “national commission” as demanded by the Punjab assembly and naming fewer PML-N members than its due share on the commission and doing that without consulting the party.
PASSIONATE PLEA: The commission said all presentations made to it and communications addressed to it made a “passionate plea” for addressing grievances and sense of deprivation of the people of south Punjab in terms of resource allocation, job quotas, educational institutions and development projects. Citing examples, it said that three southern Punjab divisions of Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan had only 12 to 15 per cent of the Punjab province’s quota of nearly 50 per cent in federal civil bureaucracy against a due share of 30 per cent commensurate with their population.