Pandemonium in PA as opposition denied debate on rise in HIV cases

Updated May 18, 2019

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OPPOSITION members raise slogans related to the growing number of HIV cases in Sindh in the house on Friday. — PPI
OPPOSITION members raise slogans related to the growing number of HIV cases in Sindh in the house on Friday. — PPI

KARACHI: Amid a noisy protest by opposition parties who were denied to raise the issue of an alarming rise in HIV-positive cases in the province, the provincial assembly on Friday passed the Sindh Prisons and Correctional Facilities Bill, 2019 to transform prisons into reformative facilities.

The bill was earlier handed to a select committee headed by MPA Ghulam Qadir Chandio to examine the original draft and edit it with the inputs of all the members belonging to all political parties in the provincial legislature.

The bill was moved by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukesh Kumar Chawla when members of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and Grand Democratic Alliance were engaged in a prolonged protest in front of rostrum of Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani.

The house passes prisons bill; prisoners to have access to newspapers, TV, computer, etc, at their own expense

Opposition’s protest

The opposition members were chanting slogans and holding placards against the government’s alleged indifference towards the alarming incidence of HIV/AIDS in various parts of the province.

As Question Hour was over, the opposition demanded that they should be allowed to move a resolution vis-à-vis the alarmingly increasing incidence of HIV in the province.

PTI’s Haleem Adil Shaikh said AIDS was a highly important issue and the chair should allow the members to speak on it.

Speaker Durrani asked them to move their resolution after the day’s business was over.

Health Minister Azra Pechuho said she was there to answer all the lawmakers’ queries.

The PTI lawmaker said the chair never allowed the opposition to speak at which the speaker asked him to speak in a polite manner.

However, the opposition — barring three members of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal and Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan — chose to stick to their demand and later congregated in front of the chair.

Minister Chawla said the opposition members’ antics were meant to evade the failure of the PTI-led government in Islamabad in offering good governance.

The calling-attention notices hardly consumed time as most of them were moved by the opposition lawmakers who were engaged in sloganeering.

A number of lawmakers belonging to the PTI, including party leaders, occupied the place where the assembly’s secretaries sit and started chanting slogans.

Certain treasury members came close to the place of action as well and demanded the opposition members vacate the speaker’s rostrum. Some members belonging to the opposing sides nearly came to blows.

Mr Durrani was seen to be extremely unhappy with the ruckus. He asked the members to maintain the distance that was allowed according to the Rules of Procedure.

Local Government Minister Saeed Ghani asked the opposition leader and the PTI’s parliamentary leader to show respect to the speaker’s office.

During the hullaballoo, MMA’s Abdul Rasheed moved a privilege motion in which he demanded action on a previous privilege motion of his passed by the house in January. He said the said motion was against certain “abusive words” spoken by the opposition leader against him.

The speaker handed the motion to a select committee for examination.

PTI’s Sidra Imran did not speak over an adjournment motion on the “failed” firefighting system in Sindh as she stayed with the rest of the opposition members in the protest.

Prisons bill

During the noisy proceedings, Mr Chawla moved the bill on the reforms in the prisons of Sindh.

He read it clause-by-clause and the house passed it unanimously as the opposition members kept chanting slogans.

Under that law, the house was told, policies would be framed for prisons and correctional facilities and correctional service including prisoners’ recruitment, training, incentives and provision of work environment enabling them to maintain high standards in performing their duties.

“An environment will be created in which prisoners will be able to live with dignity and develop the ability to lead a socially responsible and crime-free life and such treatment shall be available to all prisoners without discrimination.”

Prison policy board to take administrative decisions

According to the law, a 14-member prison policy board would be established with prisons minister in the chair and three members of the provincial assembly among its members with two from treasury and one from opposition benches as nominated by the speaker. The board would take all policy and administrative decisions.

Similarly, a prison management board would be composed of prison officials, government officials and members from judiciary and civil society. Interestingly, a representative of prisoners, who had remained a prisoner in the recent past and was not involved in any heinous crime and was finally acquitted by the court of law, or was not convicted, would also be a member on the management board.

The law acknowledged a separate place for the prisoners from transgender community who, it said, would be kept separate from female and male prisoners. Similarly, children would be kept separate from adults; female prisoners with children residing inside prisons would be kept separate from other female prisoners; and prisoners suffering from communicable diseases would be kept separate from other prisoners.

Besides, the diet offered by prisons “must make provision for the nutritional requirements of children, women and other inmates whose physical condition requires special diet”.

Access to TV, computer

Prisoners should also have access to newspapers, books or writing material, air cooler, electric kettle, water dispenser, microwave oven, LED or LCD television, personal computer (without internet) and other electronic equipment as prescribed by regulations at the prisoner’s own expense where “the prisoner enjoys a better class”.

The new law permits the office in charge of the prison to classify prisons in a ‘Better Class’, or B-class, and ‘Common Class’, or C-class prisoner.

Prisoners having a bachelor’s degree, a taxpayer for the last three years, a gazetted officer, elected representatives from National Assembly to town committees, persons in the field of academia, someone socially accustomed to a better mode of living could be entitled to a better class. However, a sentenced prisoner involved in a heinous crime would not avail it even if he met the above criteria.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2019