ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary commission approved on Saturday the draft of a constitutional amendment bill seeking creation of a new province to be called ‘Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab’, comprising three southern divisions and two western districts of Punjab.
The proposed province will comprise nearly one-third of the present Punjab in three respects — the number of districts and the number of seats in National Assembly as well as the present provincial legislature.
According to sources in the commission, the bill suggests that the provincial assembly of the proposed province will comprise 123 members — 98 general and 25 reserved seats for women and minorities. It will be represented by 59 members — 47 general and 12 reserved seats — in the 342-member National Assembly.
After creation of the new province through amendment to Article 1 of the Constitution titled ‘The republic and its territories’, the representation of the present Punjab province in the National Assembly will be reduced from 183 to 124 members. The present 371-member Punjab Assembly will be reduced to a 248-member house (198 general and 50 reserved seats).
The changes in the composition of the National and provincial assemblies will be made in the Constitution through amendments to Article 51, which describes the composition of the National Assembly, and Article 106 titled ‘Constitution of provincial assemblies’.
The new province would comprise 11 districts of Bahawalpur, Multan and Dera Ghazi Khan divisions as well as Bhakkar and Mianwali districts, the sources said.
They said the parliamentary commission had yet to reach a consensus on the capital for the proposed province. A member of the commission said there were equal votes in the panel for Multan and Bahawalpur as capital.
The Parliamentary Commission on Creation of New Provinces in Punjab, headed by PPP’s Farhatullah Babar, is expected to place its report and the draft amendment bill before parliament next week.
However, despite presentation of the report and the draft of the bill, it is unlikely that the proposed province would become a reality because of opposition by the PML-N, the ruling party in Punjab.
Senator Babar, in a briefing for reporters last week, had acknowledged that the new province cannot be carved out without approval by a two-thirds majority in the Punjab Assembly. Even if the National Assembly and the Senate passed the bill with a two-thirds majority, the President cannot sign it to convert it into an act without its passage by the Punjab Assembly.
The PML-Q’s Kamil Ali Agha, who is also a member of the commission, had said on Thursday that it might suggest ‘twin capitals’ for the province.
Mr Agha had also claimed that it was on the PML-Q’s demand that Bhakkar and Mianwali districts had been included in the new province comprising Seraiki-speaking areas.
The sources said there was a proposal under consideration that the governor’s house and provincial high court should be in Bahawalpur, while Multan could have the provincial assembly, chief minister’s house and secretariat. Moreover, the sessions of the assembly could be held in both the cities.
The commission’s members believe that if these proposals were accepted, they would be able to satisfy those calling for restoration of Bahawalpur province.
The draft also suggests amendment to Article 59 — composition of the Senate where every province has an equal representation.
The Senate consists of 104 members — 23 from each province, eight from Fata and four from Islamabad.
After addition of 23 seats from the new province, the number will rise to 127.
In order to establish the new high court, the commission has suggested amendment to Article 175-A, which deals with the ‘appointment of judges to the Supreme Court, high courts and the Federal Shariat Court’.
The commission has also suggested amendment to Article 218, which deals with composition and functions of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). The new province will also be represented by a member in the ECP, raising the commission’s strength to five from the existing four.
After attending the commission’s in camera meeting on Saturday, PPP’s Jamshed Dasti told Dawn that he and other members had signed the draft and the report would be finalised in the next meeting on Monday.
Interestingly, if the unusually long name of the new province is adopted, it will have an embarrassing acronym, ‘BJP’, which is identified with India’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
PML-N STAYS AWAY: The main opposition party in the centre and the ruling party in Punjab, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, has been boycotting the commission’s proceedings and declared that it will not accept the recommendations, accusing the PPP of bulldozing the parliamentary process required for creation of new provinces just to gain political advantage during the coming general election.
The commission had become controversial since its inception as the PML-N objected to its composition as well as its focus on one province.
The PML-N supports creation of Bahawalpur and Seraiki provinces and wants a national commission to take up demands for carving out new federating units out of other provinces as well, particularly the Hazara province out of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The 14-member commission was formed by the National Assembly speaker on Aug 16 last year in pursuance of a message received from President Asif Ali Zardari and authorisation by the house on July 11.
Her announcement named 12 members only, drawn from the two houses of parliament, and said two members would be nominated by the Punjab Assembly’s speaker.
The speaker of the provincial assembly, a PML-N member, refused to nominate members, putting a question mark on proceedings of the commission. According to some legal experts, it is incomplete and hence cannot function.