LAHORE: The debate on sugarcane prices in the Punjab Assembly drowned out in a babble about the quorum issue on Friday.

Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Iqbal earlier ‘took up the gauntlet’ of running the House without ministers, opposition and complete quorum and insisted on conducting the “business as usual” without numerical strength required by the law.

The speaker started Friday’s proceedings with barely 17 members present against the total strength of 342 and the minimum requirement of 93 members. For the next one (question) hour, the House gained some strength as attendance rose to 30 but still it was way short of the requirement.

And even with just 30 members in the House, the speaker had to continuously ask them to be attentive, or leave the House if they have to talk to each other and disturb the proceedings.

As the Question Hour and adjournment motions concluded, he tried to start the official business – the debate on cane prices crisis affecting 70pc of the population. No sooner had he went for debate than treasury member Tariq Bajwa stood up to remind him of the numerical poverty of the House and wonder “for whom are we going to discuss the issue. No one seems to be interested. The attendance is too thin to make any difference.”

The chair was not in a mood to listen. “The minister for food is here to start the debate. What else can be done. I cannot fetch people from their homes. If members do not attend the House, what can I do,” the speaker retorted.

Bajwa refused to relent: “If you cannot bring people to the House, at least ensure quorum.” The speaker ignored his call and told the minister to start the debate.

Waseem Akhtar, the lone opposition member, lent support to the chair by arguing “the thin presence is a routine in the House. Even if we wait for a few more days, it would not make any difference. Members simply don’t attend the House proceedings, then why wait?”

Bajwa stood up to formally point out a lack of quorum forcing the speaker to have a headcount. It was found well short of the requirement and the speaker adjourned the house for 15 minutes around 11.10am. His 15 minutes were stretched to 45 minutes when he returned to the House at 11.58am and ordered the headcount again and it was still short. The speaker was left with no choice but to adjourn the House till Monday afternoon.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2014

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