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LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly created on Thursday the Punjab Aab-i-Pak Authority as the house passed authority bill of 2019 with a majority vote amidst opposition’s objections to appoint governor patron-in-chief of the authority.

The authority will take measures to provide clean drinking water to people across the province.

As the law minister moved the bill, the opposition tried to buy the time through pointing out the broken quorum.

As the quorum was complete, PML-N’s Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan said the passage of the bill would set a wrong precedent. He said the chief executive of province’s powers should not be given to the representative of federation by appointing governor as patron-in-chief. He said the governor was the chancellor of universities in the province and this was clearly mentioned in the constitution.

Objecting to the process of getting the bill through, he asked, if rules of procedure were suspended, how the law would be read clause by clause and consequent voting. “Are we going to do illegal legislation?” he asked.

Azma Bukhari said the legislation seemed a person specific. The patron-in-chief of the authority should be from elected representatives. “If Chief Minister Usman Buzdar is still under training, a senior member from the house may be nominated patron-in-chief – as replacement,” she said.

“This train will soon meet an accident”.

Samiullah Khan said the governor as patron-in-chief would open a Pandora’s box and serve as a gateway to encroach upon chief minister’s powers as chief executive in a province.

Mr Khan said he had submitted an adjournment motion in the house against Toba Tek Singh deputy commissioner, who on media spoke against the governor. He said the governor’s close circle later told a press conference that no adjournment motion could be given against the governor. “I also checked in the law book and found myself wrong,” he said and added that after this legislation he would get full rights to question the actions by the governor.

Calling it a tactic by the law minister or the governor, Mr Khan said a clause had been included in the law that binds the government to consult the patron-in-chief to appoint authority’s (powerful) chairman.

He said Chaudhry Sarwar remained governor in the PML-N government and he wanted to work on water filtration plants as one of his close aides was in water filtration plant business. He alleged that Mr Sarwar had even asked former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif for the project but he rejected his demand.

“The PML-N is closely looking at this aspect and knew that sooner or later, Mr Sarwar would jump into this project,” he said and added that he feared some big scandal at the end of the day.

Mr Khan said Prime Minister Imran Khan was running the Punjab government affairs and this law would further encroach upon province’s powers.

Khalil Tahir Sindhu said that he could produce a Supreme Court judgement that stated the governor could not be appointed as a provincial authority’s patron-in-chief.

Waris Kalu also spoke on the subject.

After giving ample time to the opposition, Law Minister Basharat Raja said the PML-N had passed two bills in 2014 the same day they were introduced and the governor also gave his assent same day. Similarly in 2015, he said, five bills were introduced without taking them to the Standing Committees. “When you give examples, you should first look at your past,” he chided the PML-N’s legislators.

He said this bill was unanimously passed by the standing committee.

He said the standing committee’s meeting was called on Wednesday, which studied clause by clause and opposition members did not give any amendment.

Regarding governor’s nomination as patron-in-chief, the law minister said the authority’s functions would be governed by a board of governors. He said the governor was already serving as chancellor of hundreds of universities in the province and vice-chancellors were appointed with his consent, there should be no concern if he would be consulted for authority chairman’s appointment.

Mr Raja said the powers to remove the authority’s chairman rested with the government.

As soon as the bill was passed, the speaker prorogued the session for an indefinite period.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2019