ISLAMABAD: A sub-committee of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs was informed on Monday that the National Commission for Minorities was established in 1990, but so far neither its legal status was clear nor had any rules been framed for it by the government.
The information was given during a discussion on three private member bills for establishment of a National Commission for Religious Minorities in the country at a meeting of the sub-committee of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs.
The committee discussed two bills — The Commission for Minorities Bill, 2015, moved by Ms Beelam Hasnain, and The Commission for Minorities Bill, 2015, moved by Lal Chand Malhi.
The third bill — The Commission for Minorities’ Bill, 2016, was not taken up as the mover Sanjay Perwani was not present in the meeting.
The government, however, has strong objection over the three bills as the ministry of religious affairs claims that such a commission already exists and a law in this regard is being formulated by the ministry and it will soon be presented in the National Assembly for approval.
The sub-committee, headed by Ali Muhammad Khan, was informed that the name of the Commission had been changed to the National Commission on Interfaith Harmony as the subject of minorities had been devolved to provinces after the approval of the 18th amendment in 2010.
Mr Khan expressed his displeasure during the meeting and said that whenever a private member’s bill is presented in the parliament, the government functionaries bring up their own bill only to disturb the proceedings of the committee meeting.
Mr Khan asked officials about the current status of the commission and the sub-committee was informed that the commission was headed by the minister for religious affairs, and it has held five meetings in five years.
In reply to another question about the action taken by the commission over important issues faced by minorities, the officials said that the commission had condemned the Kot Radha Kishan incident where a Christian couple working in a brick kiln had been burned alive and Rs500,000 had been given as compensation to the couple’s heirs.
Additional Secretary of Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony Muhammad Ashraf said that the commission had not taken up the issues related to Katas Raj temples and illegal sale and encroachments of evacuee trust property land.
The sub-committee decided to amend the title of the bill as the National Commission for Non-Muslim Pakistanis’ Right.
The proposed commission may conduct studies, research and analysis on issues relating to socio-economic and educational development of minorities. It would also suggest appropriate measures with respect to any minority community to be undertaken by the government.
In his bill, Mr Lal Chand Malhi has suggested that the head of the proposed commission should be from the non-Muslim community only.
The committee was also informed by government officials that there were around five million non-Muslim Pakistanis according to the 1998 census while details of the current census would be available by the end of the current month.
The meeting decided that the ministry of religious affairs would hold meetings with movers of the three bills and club together all three private bills along with the government bill to make a combined and comprehensive bill.
“Besides, the names of the three lawmakers who have initiated their bills should be clearly mentioned in the statement of the government’s bill to give them credit,” Mr Khan said. The sub-committee has given the government 15 days to finalise the matter.
Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2018