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June 9, 2020

Bill tabled in Senate for omitting sedition section from PPC

ISLAMABAD: A bill for omission of Section 124A (sedition) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) was introduced in the Senate on Monday and referred to the House committee consideration and report.

Former chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani, who moved the bill, read out Section 124A of the act which says, “Sedition; whoever by words either spoken or written or by signs or by visible representation or otherwise brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or incites or attempts to incite dissatisfaction towards federal or provincial government established by law shall be punished with imprisonment for life to which fine may be added or with imprisonment which may extend to three years…”

Rabbani moved the bill: the Pakistan Penal Code, 2020 Bill; and through voice vote, it was referred to the standing committee despite opposition from State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad.

The veteran senator noted that this section was a part of the inherited colonial structure of the British rule, which continues in Pakistan, and it was in use to control those, who incited rebelling against the masters.

This law served as brutal occupying force and it is being used to crush the political dissent and ensure unquestionable obedience. Rabbani added that the relationship now was not of the master and servant, as was the case during the colonial rule.

Defending his bill, he contended that the section’s ambit was so wide and open that anything under the sun could be brought under it while the courts had given several judgments, wherein they had called its workings extremely vague. He added this was being used against political opponents and recently when students came out in Lahore, it was applied.

He said that the respect for the government could not be regulated through law; it arose from the state’s respect for individual freedom and the ability to govern. The minister, however, opposed it and said that none could be given free hand or absolute freedom in the name of freedom of expression or the press and added that the issues of the country’s security, defence, decency and morality had to be taken care of.

He insisted that the process could be improved but no one has complete freedom and said the law could not be done away with and also referred to the 5th generation war and attacks on the armed forces and the judiciary. He agreed that the section might have had been misused in the past.

Another bill: the Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2020, was also referred to the housing standing committee. The bill brings in proviso that while the right to legislate rested with the legislature but in certain peculiar situation, when the Parliament was not in session, the president could promulgate ordinances. It would be binding that in case of a money bill, it would be laid in the National Assembly’s first session and it would automatically lapse, if not laid during the session.

Likewise, and if the ordinance was not the money bill, it would be laid in either of the Houses in session and it would lapse, if not laid during the session. Rabbani noted that the practice in vogue deprived the House (s) of information about the nature of the ordinance and also the House and its members of the right to disapprove it through resolution.

Later, replying to mainly nine questions raised by Rabbani about the fate of the Pakistan Steel Mills and its 9300 employees, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz assured the House that transparency would be ensured and the issue of conflict of interest also be kept in view.

Rabbani argued that neither the cabinet nor the ECC was the mandated forums to deal with PSM, CCI being the constitutional forum. He asked why the messers Hubco, Ayesha Steel, ISL and Altawarqi, which were part of the earlier consortium, deal, which was set aside by the Supreme Court, had been re-associated in PSM and was not a conflict of interest.

He pointed out that the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation had earlier delisted the PSM from the active list or privatisation and subsequently, the minister concerned had given statement on Jan 29 this year that PSM was on the list of companies to be privatised, asking which one of this was true.

Rabbani asked why did Hubco and PSM sign a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement on November 23, 2018 and was this agreement placed before the PSM board of directors. And, what the details of the consultative agreement are signed between Hubco and consortium and PSM. And if this has been brought before PSM board of directors.

“Why have PPRA rules not been followed while awarding the consultancy agreement to the consortium and have Hubco and its consortium been awarded a contract for renovation/ restoration of the mills and why are 9300 PSM employees being retrenched and why the security department of PSM has been disbanded and why a private firm awarded the contract at Rs7.2 million per month,” he asked.

PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz said PSM story was full of sorrows, which was the flagship project of Pakistan once had been ruined, wherein existed once 15 unions. He charged that the ghost employees in big number enjoyed pays at home and also overtime and were promoted as well during so-called political governments while it witnessed a turnaround during dictatorial rule and Senator Abdul Qayyum also ran it in a very good way.

He noted its efficiency was reduced from 96 per cent to 80 per cent, 70 and 60 per cent and then to 14 per cent. However, all the contractual and daily wage employees were made permanent and many were promoted. He recalled gas supply to mills was cut in 2015 and it was due to the conflict of interest, as the rulers also had their own steel mill.

He said that Rs170 billion were needed only to revive the mills now while in five years Rs35 billion were paid in terms of salaries. He said the technical report said that if the mills was run with full capacity, it needed only 1000 employees’ services. "These two parties did to PSM, what they had done to Pakistan, he alleged.