ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Wednesday passed the 24th Constitutional Amendment Bill 2013, aiming at creation of Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab Province in Punjab, with a two-third majority.
Though the PML-N, PML-F, NP and an independent member, Mohsin Leghari, staged walkout from the upper house against the passage of the bill, the legislators of the Muttahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) from opposition benches joined hands with the treasury benches. The coalition government stood united as lawmakers from PML-Q, ANP and BNP-Awami supported the bill.
Law Minister Farooq H Naek moved the bill. However, for a shock to many, the bill was not opposed by the leader of the opposition Senator Ishaq Dar and rather Senator Mohsin Leghari, an independent, opposed the move. JUI-F did not take any side and its members remained absent during the entire process. Haji Adeel and other treasury members also withdrew their respective amendments.
Speaking over the bill, Opposition Leader in Senate Ishaq Dar said that the move aimed at getting political mileage to help the PPP win next election from South Punjab.
He said that the Punjab Assembly had not only rejected the commission formed by the Speaker National Assembly for creation of new provinces, but it had also called for formation of a national commission to deliberate over the sensitive matter.
He said despite being the leader of the opposition in the Senate, neither he nor Chaudhry Nisar was contacted for nominees for the commission.
Senator Mohsin Leghari raised questions against the government's bill, stating that the commission did not consider the reality that there was no constitutional provision of creation of a new province.
"Article 239 only refers to alteration of any province which means that boundaries of any province could be altered but no new province can be created. So you have to amend the constitution which the commission did not mention," he added.
He said that the commission also overlooked the distribution of water resources for the new province as water was essential for South Punjab, an agriculture-based area. He said that there was also no mention to share of appointments in FPSC and superior courts from the new province which was mandatory.
Muzaffar Hussain Shah of PML-F said that there was a need to hold a referendum in those areas where new provinces had been proposed. He said that his party would oppose the bill which may open a new Pandora's Box.
Raja Zafarul Haq said that the government's bill was a negative tactic which would be taken as a black chapter in history. He said that this step aimed at targeting entire Pakistan. He said the government should have conducted a referendum in the country. He said the constitution did not allow creation of a new province.
Chairman Senate said no one else but Mohsin Leghari had opposed the bill. Senator Leghari said that the bill may be distributed for public awareness but the chair did not allow.
Mushahid Hussain Sayed said that democratic and direct debate had been allowed over the bill which was a good omen. "The idea of creation of new provinces would strengthen the federation. The whole region is facing an international conspiracy to divide Muslim countries on ethnic lines and divides. We should be careful about these designs," he added.
"We should be aware in what direction we are headed and there would be consequences for the consequences," he added.
Hasil Bizenjo said neither of the parties wanted to create a new province and both the PPP and the PML-N wanted to gain political mileage out of the issue. He said that neither of the parties was sincere in empowering the people of South Punjab. He said that the PPP wanted to win all seats from South Punjab in the upcoming polls by raising hollow slogan.
Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the PPP was the only party which formed its organization in South Punjab.
"The prime minister of the PPP was also picked from South Punjab who was sent home. The PPP wanted to replace another leader from South Punjab who was indicted in ephedrine case," he said and added that this was not a political stunt and rather it was a solid step to empower and give identity to the people of Southern Punjab.
"Is this not the same parliament which gave identity and empowerment to the Pashtun people? This is a conscious effort to empower the people of South Punjab. I do not know we will get the bill passed from both houses or not but this is a sincere effort," he added.
He argued if this was an election stunt, why the Punjab Assembly had also passed unanimous resolutions on the same lines.
The bill was passed with majority when put by Chairman Senate for voting. However, the opposition members protested and sought time for debate. Resultantly, the opposition walked out of the house in protest.
Mohsin Leghari moved amendments in clause 2 of the bill. However, he was not supported by the opposition members who had already walked out. When the count was moved, no one supported Leghari. The amendment proposed by Hasil Bizenjo was also rejected who was not present in the house. 70 members voted in favour of clause 2 while no one opposed.