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KARACHI: Terming a government bill relating to public sector universities in the province “extremely harmful for higher education”, the joint opposition in the Sindh Assembly on Wednesday lodged a forceful protest, tore up copies of the bill and boycotted the rest of the day’s proceedings.

Led by Leader of the Opposition Khwaja Izharul Hassan, opposition lawmakers rejected the Sindh Universities and Institutes Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018 and also appealed to Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar to take suo motu notice of what they called politicisation of education in Sindh.

The bill, if passed, will give more powers to the provincial government to manage and control public sector universities and degree awarding institutes in the province.

Opposition lawmakers belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and MQM defectors, who now represent the Pak Sarzameen Party in the house, questioned the Sindh government as to why it wanted to snatch all powers of the provincial governor.

CJP asked to take suo motu notice of ‘politicisation of education’ in Sindh

Speaking on the general principles of the bill, Sindh Senior Minister Nisar Khuhro said that the universities were given under control of the governor for monitoring; as such he could be the constitutional head. He said the decision to transfer control of the universities to the chief minister was taken as in other provinces the CMs had been given such powers.

“Besides, we have the right to frame laws on our own to improve performance of institutions. We have already formed the Sindh Higher Education Commission,” he said.

Concerns raised by MQM, PML-F, PTI

MQM’s parliamentary party leader Syed Sardar Ahmad said that it was not possible for any legislator to go through each and every Act of 24 universities in which amendments were suggested in 131 pages.

Terming the replacement of the governor with the CM “misuse of powers”, he said majority did not mean ignoring the viewpoint of the opposition. He said the house had only two months and this was not the time for any more legislation. “I oppose the bill outright.”

PML-F’s Nusrat Abbasi asked as to what was the hurry that time was not being given to lawmakers to study the bill that covered 24 universities’ acts. She asked why all powers of the governor were being transferred to the CM.

PTI lawmakers Dr Seema Zia, Samar Ali Khan and Khurram Sher Zaman said the level of education in the province was already not up to standard and it would go down further by politicisation. “You want to post your own men in the universities and institutes to destroy the education further. The PTI rejects it.”

MQM defector MPA Mehmood Abdul Razzaq said the bill be deferred to give time to study all amendments.

Opposition Leader Khwaja Izhar said it was a dictatorial bill which was being imposed in Sindh. “You could not even run primary schools and handed [them] over to private organisation. Now you want to run universities? This is not a bill but a joke, as under the amendments they want to give powers of chancellor, pro-chancellor, syndicate and academic council to the chief minister. We reject the bill and boycott the house [proceedings].”

With his speech, all opposition lawmakers staged a walkout.

Bill consideration deferred till today

After their walkout, Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza gave the floor to Mr Khuhro to take up the bill for a clause-by-clause reading.

But Mr Khuhro regretted that the opposition lawmakers had left the house without even listening to the government’s point of view. Terming it unethical, he deferred the reading of the bill to Thursday (today).

“We don’t want to bulldoze the bill therefore after its introduction I myself defer its consideration for today,” he said.

He said that in 2013 amendments were also effected in 13 universities in a similar manner. “I will ask them when 13 universities’ acts could be amended by one amendment bill then why they are raising objections in carrying amendments to 24 universities’ and institutes’ [acts],” he said.

Explaining the reasons behind the amendment bill, he said: “We have decided after due consideration to make chancellor and give other controls over universities to the chief minister. Ours is an elected assembly and has full confidence in the chief minister who is an elected person. Why would he be partial? The governor is the nominee of the federation [and] we are not aware what capacity he had.”

The chair, who called the house in order at 12.10pm, called it day at 2.45pm to reassemble on Thursday at 10am.

Liaquatabad shown as part of rural area

Earlier, Khwaja Izhar said that the report of delimitation of constituencies was published only on Tuesday.

He said all political parties had expressed reservations on the provisional results of the sixth population census for undercounting population of Karachi.

In the delimitation report, one National Assembly and two provincial assembly seats were increased in Karachi, whereas one urban seat was taken out from district Central and Liaquatabad was also separated from NA-246 constituency and shown as part of Karachi’s rural areas.

Senior Minister Khuhro said that “we have already expressed our apprehension about the census but we were told that the census was conducted under the supervision of the army”.

He said it was our apprehension that not only Karachi but the population of Sindh was also undercounted.

He said it was a serious matter but it was clear that the PPP would resist any move to postpone the forthcoming general election.

An adjournment motion of Ms Abbasi pertaining to alcohol consumption in the Sindh Secretariat was opposed by Mr Khuhro.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2018