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March 12, 2020

Two-thirds NA, Senate majority must for creation of new provinces

March 12, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Two-thirds majority is mandatory not only in the Senate and National Assembly but also in the Punjab legislature for the approval of a bill to create a new province in the south of the majority federating unit.

To achieve the phenomenal majority for such a bill that the government intends to move in the National Assembly, the support of two major parliamentary forces--Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)--is essential; otherwise, it can’t be passed.

Even if the bill is cleared by the two Houses of Parliament, the president can’t give his assent to it unless it has been passed by the Punjab Assembly by a two-thirds majority.

Article 239(4) 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 it has been passed by the assembly of that province by the votes of not less than two-thirds of its total membership. The clause makes it clear that even if the instant bill is passed by both the National Assembly and the Senate, it is obligatory to get the sanction of two-third majority of the Punjab assembly; otherwise, it can’t be enacted. The whole parliamentary exercise will be futile if the requisite numerical power of the provincial legislature refuses to extend support to it.

On the basis of its numerical strength, such bill can’t get green light from the Punjab Assembly without the votes of the PML-N. Even if it is supported by the PPP, which has always stood for creation of the south Punjab province, in the National Assembly, it can’t be passed in the Senate in the absence of the PML-N’s backing.

After a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi announced that the government will move a bill in the National Assembly to establish a province in south/Saraiki region of Punjab. However, he was conscious of the fact that the ruling coalition doesn’t have the required majority to approve it.

PML-N Leader Rana Sanaullah last year moved a bill in the Lower House of Parliament, seeking creation of two provinces--Bahawalpur and South in Punjab. He pointed out that the Punjab Assembly has passed two resolutions for the restoration of the status of State of Bahawalpur and establishment of another province in Punjab. The motions were supported by all political parties. The provinces should be created on the basis of administrative needs and not on the basis of ethnic and linguistic grounds. A national commission should be formed for the purpose, he emphasised.

Federal Minister and PML-Q leader Tariq Bashir Cheema has always kept stressing the restoration of the status of State of Bahawalpur and said he has no objection if south Punjab province is set up. Sanaullah’s private member bill is pending in the standing committee for consideration and disposal.

At the same time, four Mutahidda Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) legislators also tabled a bill in the National Assembly last year to eliminate from the Constitution the compulsory condition of getting approval of a two-third majority of the concerned provincial assembly of an amendment to alter the limits of that province. They wanted to erase clause 4 of Article 239.

They said there is no doubt that Parliament is the supreme organ of the State which determines the nature and structure of the governing and legislative system to provide for legal and regulatory framework for functioning of the governance mechanism.

These lawmakers said Parliament is invested with unlimited sovereign powers to change the entire structure of the Constitution, other constitutional institutions and organisations. However, it is quite illogical that when Parliament is such a powerful organ of the State and governing system, it cannot create new provinces and administrative units within existing territories and provinces of the Federation without the consent and approval of the concerned province. Article 239(4) is such a self-contradictory provision which is a bar on the legislative powers of Parliament, they opined.

Talk has been going on for years to create Saraike or South Punjab province out of Punjab for political considerations, but nothing concrete has ever been done due to lack of national consensus. The last PPP government whipped up the issue but could not get any political dividends in the following general elections. The PTI has followed the suit. Before the 2018 parliamentary polls, a set of influential figures, including Khusro Bakhtiar, who is now federal minister, had formed a front to have a new province in south Punjab. They had signed an agreement with the PTI, but had been silent after the elections.