LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed the Punjab Local Government (first and second amendment) Bills 2016 as the “united opposition” in the House opted to walk out.

The opposition did not return despite repeated calls by Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal as well as on the request of a treasury delegation led by minister Tahir Khalil Sindhu.

The amendment has allowed increase in reserved seats for social workers, labourers and farmers as well as increase in deputy mayor/vice chairmen seats on additional 0.5 million population. The deputy mayors/vice chairmen elections would be held on an open division basis. Another amendment allows nominations on reserved seats by respective parties according to their strength as is the case in the Punjab Assembly, the National Assembly and the Senate.

Explaining the logic behind amendments, law minister Rana Sanaullah said amendments would discourage horse-trading and the system would be protected and added that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had also conducted local government elections under this system, which was the reason that the opposition had nothing to oppose and opted to walk out.

He said the opposition could make hue and cry on roads but could not speak with logic on legislation carried out in the House.

Opposition leader Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed remained absent throughout the proceedings.

Earlier, PTI’s Siddique Khan said the treasury wanted to pass the bills by bulldozing opposition and sought at least three-day time to make informed discussion on highly important bills.

Mr Sanaullah responded that this bill was a ditto copy of the already promulgated ordinance and the opposition had discussed it at length by issuing analysis and addressing news conferences. Later, he said, the opposition challenged it in court which ruled that the treasury and opposition should discuss the amendment bill in the Punjab Assembly.

Since the first phase of the District Council elections is scheduled for Feb 8, the law minister said the opposition just wanted to delay the passage of the bills otherwise it knew more than three days ago that the bills would be tabled in the House on Thursday. He said the opposition members were invited to discuss the amendments to the Standing Committee but they did not attend the meeting for one reason or another.

“The treasury is ready to respond to each and every objection raised by the opposition but the latter does not want to speak in the House,” Mr Sanaullah commented.

Hitting out at the opposition over other issues, the law minister explained that Orange Line Train project was first conceived in 1991, when Japanese agency JICA surveyed and recommended Orange Line and Green Line trains in Lahore to take the load of commuters in the years to come. He also explained how these projects were put in the cold storage by the successive governments.

Stating that these projects were again recommended by another survey company in 2006, he added that the PML-N’s Punjab government again took up the projects and implemented metro bus in place of Green Line Train by using its own funds.

Asserting that the Orange Line project would be completed well before time, the law minister said the government had started making payments to those whose houses or land had been acquired for the project. He said the government had already disbursed Rs850 million and would further disburse around Rs14 billion within next five days.

He said some 250,000 commuters would benefit from the train on a daily basis.

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2016

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