ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly (NA) on Thursday passed the 31st Amendment in the Constitution with two-thirds majority for merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP) province.
The Constitution (Thirty First Amendment) Bill, 2018 which required 228 votes for passage sailed through with 229 votes while one vote was cast at the time of division of votes. Hence, one vote defined the majority decision in this case. The bill envisages an end to special powers of the President, governor and FCR.
As Law Minister Mahmood Bashir Virk moved the amendment bill, 11 members opposing the bill were present in the House. However, at the start of the clause by clause reading, the JUI-F member staged a walk-out and by the time of division of votes, only one member was left to oppose the integration of Fata and Pata with the KP province.
As per requirements of Article 239 of the Constitution, the amendment bill would also require a two-thirds majority support of the KP Assembly after it is passed by the Senate with the same majority. The KP assembly is going to complete its term on May 28. The constitutional amendment envisages amendments in Article 246 and repeals Article 247 which placed the tribal areas under the command and control of the President. The Clause 4 of Article 239 of the Constitution says ‘a bill to amend the Constitution which would have the effect of altering the limits of a province shall not be presented to the President for assent unless passed by the provincial assembly of that province by the votes of not less than two thirds of its total membership’.
The PTI Chairman, Imran Khan, turned up in the House to participate in the passage of the amendment bill. After the passage of the bill, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi approached Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah and Imran Khan and shook hands with them in a pleasant mood. The parliamentary leaders of JUI-F and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party Maulana Fazalur Rehman and Mehmood Khan Achakzai who have been opposing the merger of Fata and Pata with the KP province did not turn up.
As per Clause 3 of the bill which will envisage amendment in Article 51 of the Constitution, the number of NA seats will be reduced from 342 to 336. As many as 12 seats will stand abolished with the merger of the tribal areas with the province. There will be an increase of six NA seats for the KP province from 39 to 45. However, MNAs from Fata elected in 2018 general elections shall continue till the dissolution of the NA. According to an amendment in Article 59 of the Constitution, the number of Senate seats will be reduced from 104 to 96 as eight existing seats for Fata will be abolished. However, the existing members of the Senate from Fata shall continue till the expiry of their respective terms.
Similarly, according to an amendment in Article 106 of the Constitution, the strength of members in the KP Assembly will increase from the existing 124 (99 general seats, 22 women seats and two non-Muslims) to 145 seats (115 general seats, 26 women seats and four non-Muslim seats).
The elections for the new (increased) 21 seats including 16 general seats, four women and one for non-Muslims in areas falling in the existing Fata will be held within a period of one year.The amendment bill is likely to be tabled for passage in the Senate on Friday (today) after which it will be placed in the KP Assembly by May 28 for assent of the President.
Earlier, following the start of the NA proceedings, it took nearly two hours to complete the required number of members in the House. At one stage, Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah as a protest said the bill should be left to the next assembly if the government was not interested in its passage.
On that, the prime minister requested the opposition members to wait for a few minutes saying the amendment bill was being made possible with joint efforts of the government and opposition.
Speaking on the bill, Prime Minister Abbasi said the passage of the historic bill will have far-reaching effects for the whole country. He said the House today demonstrated national consensus on an important issue and expressed the confidence that other matters faced by the country will be addressed with the same spirit. He thanked the opposition benches for extending support to the passage of the constitution amendment. He said efforts for Fata reforms had been continuing for the last four years. He said the committee under the supervision of Sartaj Aziz worked for two and a half years to formulate the Fata reforms package.
He said the passage of the bill is just a beginning to bring Fata to the national mainstream. “We have to win the trust and confidence of the tribal people by fulfilling the development needs there,” he observed. He said the PML-N was committed to the fast-track development of the area and this House will also have to express commitment towards this end. He said they have to give the same kind of amenities to the people of Fata which are available to the people of other regions. He said there should be no discrimination in development as tribal people are also equal citizens of the country.
Prior to passage of the bill, Dr. Farooq Sattar of MQM said they have been taking categorical stance with regard to Fata and their today’s support to the bill was proof of the fact. He said the MQM has already submitted bills for creation of new provinces like Hazara, South Punjab and Fata. The PPP members strongly protested against the remarks of Farooq Sattar when he said now that grievances of people of Fata were being addressed, why problems of the people of what he said “Karachi Administrated Tribal Areas” could be given weight.
Responding to the points of Sahabzada Tariqullah of Jamaat-e-Islami, the Prime Minister assured that the tax exemptions to Fata and Pata will remain available.
On the points raised by the Opposition Leader and others on the water shortages in Sindh, the Prime Minister said water distribution among provinces is done on the basis of Water Accord 1991.
He said the water flow has reduced by 54 percent as compared to the previous years due to less snowfall. He said if a province, especially Sindh, has any reservation on the water allocation by Irsa, they can bring the issue to the Council of Common Interests (CCI).
The Prime Minister made it clear that government has nothing to do with the water distribution as it has been done on the basis of vote by the Irsa members.
Naveed Qamar of the PPP said the passage of constitution amendment is an important milestone in bringing the tribal areas at a par with other areas of the country. He also expressed satisfaction that all the parties were on the same page on this matter. Sahabzada Tariqullah of Jamaat-e-Islami also welcomed the passage of the constitutional amendment and expressed the confidence that it will usher a new era of prosperity in the tribal areas.
Earlier, dissident PTI member Dawar Kundi, an independent member from Fata, Bilal Rehman and parliamentarians from JUI-F and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party including Maulana Jamaluddin, Naeema Kishwar Khan, Naseem Panezai and Abdul Qadar Wahan Khan opposed the bill when it was moved.
Wahan said the people of Fata wanted a separate province. Without naming Imran Khan, he said the member who cursed parliament was also present in the House. Naeema Kishwar said the PML-N and PTI leaders have been abusing each other but now they are together when it comes to playing with rights of people of Fata areas. They said the merger of Fata with the KP province would amount to playing with rights of people of Fata claiming that the majority of the people of tribal areas are not in support of their merger with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
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