ISLAMABAD: Lawmakers on Wednesday passed 11 bills — many of them dealing with issues of a serious nature, in a non-serious environment — without discussion and without even having quorum on a dull private member’s day in the National Assembly.

Of the 11 approved bills, eight were adopted by the lower house after suspending rules and without referring them to the committees concerned.

Deputy Speaker Zahid Akram Durrani, who presided over the entire over three-hour-long session, continued declaring the bills ‘introduced’ and ‘passed’ through voice votes as the lawmakers kept on saying “Aye” without knowing what was really going on around them.

Many believe that the haste shown by the government was perhaps because of the planned presentation of the federal budget, generally known as the finance bill, on Friday as during the general debate on the budget, the house cannot carry out any other legislation.

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Another reason for not referring the bills to committees seems to be the fact that all the committees of the National Assembly are currently incomplete after the en masse resignations of the members of the formerly ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) at the time of election of Shehbaz Sharif as the prime minister on April 11.

The house took up the heavy legislative agenda when all the front rows on the treasury benches remained empty and no one from the “friendly opposition” raised any voice over the situation. The government managed to get two bills passed by bringing a supplementary agenda.

Besides passage of 11 bills, the assembly also saw introduction of four bills, which were referred to the committees, and rejection of a bill moved by Shakila Luqman of the PML-N seeking to make the drug test compulsory for the students of the educational institutions in Islamabad.

The bill was rejected by the lawmakers with a 50-6 votes. Interestingly, the mover was also among those who voted against the motion for introduction of the bill after receiving criticism from the members who termed the bill unjustified.

Besides this, the lawmakers also unanimously passed the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2022, moved by MNA Shaza Fatima Khawaja stripping the Islamabad district administration officials of their judicial powers.

They will no longer have the power to remand or send anyone to jail after the president’s assent to the bill which had already been passed by the Senate.

Another crucial bill was the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020, moved by Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) seeking enhancement of punishments for spreading obscenity on social media.

Ghaus Bux Mahar of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), who considers the four members of his alliance as the genuine opposition in the assembly, moved a controversial private member’s bill namely the Pak-China Gwadar University, Lahore Bill, 2022, which the deputy speaker referred to the standing committee despite its opposition by Minister of State for Law and Justice Shahadat Awan.

Expressing his surprise over the bill under which the proposed university will be allowed to open its campuses in any city, not only in the country, but abroad, the state minister opposed the bill, declaring that education was already a devolved subject.

However, the chair ignored the minister’s assertion and referred the bill to the committee, stating that every matter could be discussed there.

The government has already convened a joint sitting of the parliament on Thursday evening to consider the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022, and the National Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which had been passed by the two houses of the parliament, but sent back by President Dr Arif Alvi for reconsideration.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2022

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