• Vexed lawmakers accost Chairman Sanjrani over controversial resolution
• House proceedings adjourned within minutes amid uproar
• Minister says Rs11bn already spent on feasibility studies and design for ML-1 rail project

ISLAMABAD: Putting aside their differences, leading political parties on Friday presented a joint front in the Senate as they robustly protested the Nov 13 resolution in support of military courts.

The clamour by Senate members forced Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to adjourn the sitting within minutes, without taking up any agenda item.

This was the second consecutive sitting of the upper house marred by a protest over the resolution, which has since become controversial due to the hasty manner in which it was presented and approved.

The two-page resolution was tabled by independent Senator Dilawar Khan and supported only by Balochistan Awami Party senators.

The resolution, not part of the agenda issued before the session, was tabled when a majority of members were absent. The Senate chairman not only allowed Mr Khan to present the resolution but even put it for a vote without any debate, only minutes before adjourning the sitting.

The two-page resolution termed the SC verdict “an attempt to rewrite the law” and an encroachment of the parliament’s legislative authority.

Ruckus in house

At the outset of Friday’s sitting, senators from leading political parties, including PPP, PML-N and PTI, stood up and requested the chairman to put off the agenda and allow them to speak on the controversial resolution.

Mr Sanjrani said he would give the floor to the senators, but only after taking up the day’s agenda and immediately commenced the ‘Question Hour’, even when no minister was present to respond to senators’ queries.

The protesting senators rejected the chairman’s suggestion. They demanded time to speak on the resolution, which, according to them, was tabled in the house in violation of the rules and parliamentary traditions.

Despite the ministers’ absence, Mr Sanjrani igno­red the shouting senators and kept calling members’ names to ask questions.

This led to an argument with senators whom he refused permission to speak, saying he could not allow them to behave in this manner and speak in this tone.

His warning fell on deaf ears as senators refused to eschew their demand. Out of options, the Senate chairman adjourned the session till Monday afternoon.

ML-1 project

Amid the protest, the house was informed that the Main Line 1

(ML-1) project was yet to be started, and negotiations were underway between Pakistan and China for its early commencement.

The written reply by caretaker Railways Minister Shahid Ashraf Tarar was presented in the house on a query posed by PTI’s Dr Zarqa Suharwardy regarding the project status.

As per the minister’s reply, a modified PC-1 of the project — with a total cost of $9.851 billion — was approved by Ecnec on Oct 31, 2022.

The project was expected to be completed in nine years.

Over Rs11bn have already been spent on feasibility studies and preliminary design of the project, the minister said, adding that Pakistan Railways (PR) later suggested reducing the project cost by optimising its scope and standards without compromising the underlying objective of safety and efficiency.

The minister concerned and officers at all levels participated in de­­tailed deliberations for cost-cutting and presented revised proposals.

One of the options — to upgrade ML-1 with rationalised scope and cost — was principally approved by the then prime minister Shahbaz Sharif on June 13 and also by the National Railways Administration (NRA) of China during the 21st Technical Experts Conference meeting, said the minister.

The design adjustments are being reviewed, and the ministry has already requested the NRA to consent to the bidding process, for which a response is awaited.

In response to another question of PPP’s Bahramand Tangi, the minister said a total of 13,974 acres of railways were under illegal occupation all over the country, and orders had been issued to all divisional superintendents to retrieve it.

Repeat episode

The ripples of the controversial resolution were also felt in the house on Nov 14, with Deputy Chairman Mirza Muhammad Afridi in the chair. Like Mr Sanjrani, the deputy chairman also found refuge in calling off the sitting.

Addressing the house on Tuesday. PML-N’s Sadia Abbasi had “condemned” the “out-of-agenda resolution” passed in haste“.

She added the motion was passed at a time when only a dozen senators were present in the house.

Ms Abbasi, whose party officially supported the military trial of civilians after the May attacks, said she didn’t endorse the resolution and could not allow military courts to function.

She added the resolution did not reflect the viewpoint of the majority members and called for its withdrawal.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2023



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