ISLAMABAD, Dec 18: A government-backed private bill was introduced in the National Assembly on Tuesday to make it binding for the government to hold population census in Pakistan after every 10 years.
The Census (Amendment) Bill, piloted by Yasmeen Rehman of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was supported by Khursheed Ahmed Shah, the party chief whip and religious affairs minister, who said it was needed because concerned authorities were not holding the census every 10 years under the existing Census Ordinance of 1959, which says the census “may be held” after every 10 years without making it mandatory.
The brief two-clause bill seeks to make once-a-decade population count mandatory with a substituted section requiring that the “federal government shall after every ten years” make a notification in the official gazette for taking census in Pakistan.
Immediate support for the draft, before it was sent to a house standing committee for scrutiny, came also from the government-allied Muttahida Qaumi Movement, one of whose senior lawmakers, Abdul Kadir Khanzada, said the measure was most needed, particularly in the case of Karachi in light of a raging controversy over a Supreme Court order for delimitation of constituencies in the country’s largest city.
He said Karachi’s population had risen to 20 million compared to the last 1998 census count of 9.8 million.
Another private legislation that came before the house and was sent to a standing committee on what was a private members’ day, was introduced by Attiya Inayatullah of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q with eight other co-authors from the ruling coalition parties, seeking to redress what it called “horrendous” acid-throwing and burn crimes “increasing year by year” with hundreds of women and children falling victims.
The 35-clause draft proposes the punishment of death or life imprisonment both for causing death and intentionally causing hurt by acid and burn attack and imprisonment of up to seven years, but not less than three years, for an attempt to commit such an offence and abetment, as well as government monetary relief for crime victims.
A key amendment in the house rules of procedure proposed by a lawmaker of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), Anusha Rehman Khan, to provide for a major role for house committee in budget-making, was deferred for the second time on the request of its author in order to achieve consensus in a concerned standing committee.
After arguments among some members and government ministers, Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi referred the amendment to the standing committee with a directive for a report within 10 days.
But that will mean the amendment, which requires each federal ministry to submit its annual budgetary proposals for the next fiscal year to the concerned standing committee and a pre-budget session of the National Assembly, will have to wait until the next session of the house as present session, which began on Dec 10, is due to last until Thursday.
Before the house was adjourned until Wednesday, several members spoke on points of order on different issues, such as a PPP member from Peshawar, Noor Alam Khan, blaming alleged police inefficiency for some latest suicide attacks there, though he was countered by the chair as well as Minister for Education and Training Sheikh Waqqas Akram of the PML-Q, both of whom complimented the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province police for their conduct in facing militants.
The minister also expressed concern about the possible presence of Uzbek militants in Punjab, saying he had seen some of them accompanying supporters of his political rival in his constituency in Jhang district during campaigning for the Feb 2008 elections, and called for measures to track them.
Another PML-Q lawmaker, Minister of State for Overseas Pakistanis Mohammad Raza Hayat Hiraj, seemed to be attacking a government bill pending before the Senate seeking to permit Pakistanis holding dual nationality to contest elections, saying overseas remittances that help the country’s economy largely come from Pakistanis working in Gulf states who don’t have dual nationality rather than those holding dual nationality in Western countries.
Nasir A. Shah, a PPP member from Balochistan, protested against the inclusion of his name among alleged tax-evading lawmakers in some recent media stories based on the reports of two non-governmental organisations, saying he had been paying his taxes.
Another PPP member from Punjab, Jamshed Ahmad Dasti, complained of alleged excesses of the PML-N’s provincial government against political opponents while PML-N’s Abid Sher Ali saw a plot of making Pakistan barren by those opposing the proposed Kalabagh dam.
The house offered prayers for four polio vaccinators shot dead in Karachi earlier in the day apparently by the opponents of anti-polio campaign and observed one minute’s silence for a 71-year-old Swedish Christian aid worker, Birgitta Almeby, who was critically wounded in a targeted attack in Lahore on Dec 3 and later died in a Stockholm hospital.
But the PPP’s former religious affairs minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi, before the leading the prayer for Karachi victims, said it would be “a joke with the prayer” if no action was taken against culprits.