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December 3, 2019

Murad Ali Shah calls for interpretation of constitution for creation of more provinces


December 3, 2019

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has called for interpreting the constitution in order to create new provinces in the country.

“As far as my personal opinion is concerned, the constitution allows modification in the boundaries of a province and there is no clear-cut mention of creation of a new province,” he opined on Monday while talking to members of the Senate Standing Committee on Law & Justice led by Senator Mohammad Javed Abbasi.

The senators’ delegation comprised Ghous Mohammad Khan, Musadiq Masood Malik, Walid Iqbal, Sana Jamali and others. The CM was assisted by Chief Secretary Mumtaz Shah, Adviser on Law Murtaza Wahab, Principal Secretary to CM Sajid Jamal Abro, Home Secretary Usman Chachar and Law Secretary Shariq Hussain.

The standing committee discussed various issues with the CM, including the creation of new provinces of South Punjab and Hazara, and fixation of the minimum age for a labourer in the light of the child labour laws.

Shah said he was not a practising lawyer but based on his understanding of the constitution, he was of the view that the constitution needed to be interpreted regarding the creation of new provinces.

“The constitution allows modification of boundaries. Now, the question arises whether the modification [of boundaries] implies creation of a new province or it is about resettlement of boundaries between the two existing provinces,” he said, adding that as far as the creation of a new province was concerned, it must be demanded by the provincial assembly concerned with a two-third majority and the assembly’s request should be sent to the federal government for further action.

Wahab informed the Senate committee on the position of the Sindh government about the creation of South Punjab. He said the Punjab Assembly had already passed a resolution for the creation of South Punjab province and now the federal government had to decide the course of action about it.

The CM said no demand for a separate province could be entertained until and unless the relevant provincial assembly had made such a demand. He added that the creation of South Punjab had already been demanded by the Punjab Assembly and the demand for Hazara province had been made by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.

About the fixation of the labourer’s minimum age, the CM said it could be set to 16 years. He told the Senate body that the Sindh government, in order to discourage child labour, had fixed 18 years as the minimum age for a labourer but it could be changed to 16 years.

Shah said the federal government was reluctant to convene the Council of Common Interests (CCI) meetings. He added that the Pakistan Railways was a CCI subject but it was never discussed in CCI meetings. He said the last CCI meeting was held 13 months ago and now the next meeting was to be held on December 11.

“The provincial government in Sindh is actually the government of opposition [in Centre] but it has never been treated democratically,” he remarked and added that if the federal government followed the constitution, there would have been no outstanding issues between the Centre and the province.

The CM recalled that when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the prime minister, he held a CCI meeting for continuous three days. The PPP government under Asif Ali Zardari used to hold the CCI meetings on time, he said, adding that for quite some time Nawaz Sharif as a prime minister also held its regular meetings but then they were discontinued. He said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government had made the CCI irrelevant by not convening its meetings on time.

New constituencies

The participants also discussed the proposal of giving more seats to Balochistan in the National Assembly because of its area. A National Assembly constituency in Balochistan stretched over 200 miles and it was not humanly possible for a candidate to visit it entirely before the election, it was said.

The CM remarked that the area or distance could not be made a criterion for a national assembly seat. “Yes, the provincial assembly seats can be increased on the basis of area which may facilitate the people and the candidate internally,” he said.

Shah was of the view that the creation of Senate as a constitutional body was aimed at giving equal representation to the provinces but seats in the National Assembly were based on the population. The criterion of area could not be accepted for a National Assembly seat, he said.

He also told the standing committee that the ongoing vertical programmes in the health and population department had been abandoned by the federal government as far as their funding was concerned.

The CM urged the Senate body to take up the issues of the CCI meetings, NFC award and release of funds for vertical programmes with the federal government. The committee members appreciated the CM for his input in the discussion.

Public hearing

The Senate standing committee also held a public hearing on Monday to seek opinions on the proposed amendments in the constitution about South Punjab province, increase in the numbers of seats from Balochistan in Parliament and fixing the minimum age for labourers to 16.

The subject of new provinces, however, dominated the talk, drawing ire and awe of the audience as some advocated further units in the country on linguistic and administrative bases and others opposed the idea, arguing that new provinces might not be able to function properly and their creation would exacerbate the tension among ethnicities.

Ashir Wilson, who is a visually challenged social activist and a graduate from Karachi University (KU), shared that he was not hopeful about any betterment in the governance system even if new provinces were created in the country. He said until power were devolved to the local bodies, the issues of governance could not be resolved.

Sana Khan, who was from the school of law at KU, said the government should make new provinces on an administrative basis. “We should have love for all the languages and our objective should be clear before we go towards the amendment,” she added, citing examples of European countries where French, Dutch and English languages co-existed.

Journalist Shahid Jatoi commented that making new provinces on an administrative basis would not let Pakistan be a federation. He proposed that the areas of southern Punjab, where Siraiki people are in a majority, should instead be made a federating unit.

Shafaqat Hussain Bukhari, a lawyer, said having a separate province was the constitutional and legal right of the Siraiki community. “Till when the budget of Siraiki Waseb will be spent on Lahore,” he remarked.

Another lawyer Jamal Nasir differed with the preceding opinion. “The government should hold a referendum in the southern Punjab instead and seek opinion,” he said and called for changing and upgrading the delimitation policies.

Abida Batool of the Siraiki Awami Tremut Tehreek said they had been struggling for a separate province for the past 40 years which the Punjab government always denied. “We need a province by the name of Siraikistan and we will continue to struggle to get our rights,” she said, emphasising that the Siraiki women were equally committed to the cause.

The public hearing was held in collaboration with an NGO, Tabeer. The standing committee chairman said they had taken input from the people and would raise it in the upper house of Parliament in their report based on the opinions from all over the country. Similar public hearings would be held in other major cities of the country.