ISLAMABAD: Only a week after running a 26-day budget session, the government has now decided to convene another lengthy session of the National Assembly from July 8 (Wednesday) to meet the constitutional requirement regarding the minimum number of sittings per year.
Sources said the government also had a plan to summon a joint sitting of parliament during the NA session to take up some “pending legislations”, including the anti-money laundering bill, and to allow members to speak on the Kashmir issue on the first anniversary of the Indian government’s decision to annex occupied territory through a controversial constitutional amendment on August 5 last year.
Under Article 54(2) of the Constitution, the National Assembly is required to be in session for a minimum of 130 days in a parliamentary year.
The parliamentary year of the present assembly starts on Aug 13. The National Assembly has so far held 104 sittings and in order to fulfil the provisions of the Constitution, it must be in session for another 26 “working days” by Aug 13.
Anti-money laundering bill, Kashmir issue likely to be discussed at joint sitting of parliament
In fact, the actual number of sittings made by the National Assembly so far is only 69 as the two sandwich days between Friday and Monday are also counted as “working days” of the assembly.
Article 54(2) of the Constitution says: “There shall be at least three sessions of the National Assembly every year and not more than 120 days shall intervene between the last sitting of the Assembly in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session.
“Provided that the National Assembly shall meet for not less than 130 working days in each year.”
It further explains that “working days” includes any day on which there is a joint sitting and any period, not exceeding two days for which the National Assembly is adjourned.”
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan during his meeting with National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser last week had already apprised him about the government’s intent to summon the National Assembly on July 8 to take up various legislations pending before the house for passage.
According to the data provided by the speaker’s office, 107 members from the treasury and 101 members from the opposition took part in the general discussion on the budget. The general debate continued for 57 hours and 8 minutes against initially decided 40 hours.
The treasury members had been allocated 21 hours and 35 minutes while the opposition had 18 hours and 24 minutes to speak on the federal budget. However, the opposition and the treasury were afforded 10 hours and 49 minutes and 6 hours and 20 minutes, respectively, over and above their actual time allocation.
Previously, the government had succeeded in meeting the same constitutional requirement for the Senate when it remained in session continuously for almost two months in January and February. Under the Constitution, the Senate “shall meet for not less than one hundred and ten (110) working days in each year”.
Meanwhile, Attorney General of Pakistan Khalid Javed Khan called on NA Speaker Asad Qaiser on Sunday to discuss the Lahore High Court’s June 30 observation on the issue of the recent shortage of petrol and its products and the increase in their prices.
According to an official announcement by the National Assembly Secretariat, the attorney general briefed the speaker about the observation of the Lahore High Court (LHC).
The LHC Chief Justice, Muhammad Qasim Khan, on June 30 had suggested the National Assembly speaker to constitute a committee comprising parliamentarians from the treasury and the opposition to probe into the recent shortage of petrol in the country.
The CJ had asked the attorney general to discuss the court’s suggestion with the NA speaker.
The CJ during the hearing of a petition seeking action against authorities concerned for their failure to overcome the petrol shortage, had observed that the court wanted the parliament to do the job on its own, otherwise, the law would take its course and no official, if found guilty, would be spared.
The chief justice had directed the attorney general to assist the court on the next hearing, if the speaker did not form a committee, whether a commission under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) would be appropriate to hold an investigation into the fuel crisis. The next hearing of the case is on July 9.
The speaker told the attorney general that the parliament always held the judiciary in high esteem and respected the observations made by it. He informed the AG that a report had already been sought from the house committee on energy regarding shortage and rise in prices of petroleum products.
Referring to the role of National Assembly, the speaker said that elected representatives took up the issues relating to their constituents in the assembly. He said the issue of shortage of POL products and the problems faced by the masses were raised in budget session both by the government and opposition members.
Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2020