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National Assembly speaker finally gives go ahead to Seraiki Commission

By: Tariq Butt

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza has issued the belated authorisation to the parliamentary commission headed by Senator Farhatullah Babar to carve a new province out of Punjab, allowing it to complete the task assigned to it.

“A major snag has now been removed by the speaker’s notification,” Senator Babar told The News when contacted.

He said the commission would meet tomorrow (Monday) to finalise its rules and then go ahead with further deliberations over formulating its recommendations for creating a new province in Punjab.

The commission was initially given one-month time to conclude its report. However, Babar said his understanding is that this time has not expired but would start from the date of the authorisation issued by the speaker.

He said the commission would submit its recommendations to the National Assembly and it would be up to the legislature to do with them what it wants. It is for the government to table a constitutional amendment to the effect.

To a question, Babar said he could not do anything about the boycott of the commission by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). “We have formally written a letter to the opposition but it is unwilling to be forthcoming.”

The commission, which was formed with a lot of fanfare several weeks ago, has been inactive since long and even those who ambitiously constituted it did not seem interested in making it functional.

It is generally believed that even after the speaker’s authorisation the commission is engaging in a futile exercise because its recommendations would be inconsequential as these would lead nowhere when the ruling coalition is in no mood to sponsor the required constitutional amendment.

During his recent visit to Multan that he paid to pacify estranged former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, President Asif Ali Zardari declared that the ruling alliance did not have the requisite two-third majority to approve the constitutional amendment for creation of another province in Punjab.

However, Gilani, sounding exceedingly optimistic, told Zardari that once the government moves such an amendment in the parliament, many opposition lawmakers would come out to support it against the party discipline.

According to independent calculations, the ruling coalition lost the two-third parliamentary majority after some legislators belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) stepped down to avoid disqualification for holding dual nationalities.

“By getting the final recommendations prepared by the Babar commission by mid-January, the ruling coalition can claim in the campaign for the next elections that it did what it could to set up Seraiki province but the PML-N did not cooperate in this connection,” a senior official said.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which was too eager to have Seraiki regions as the new province when Gilani was prime minister, put the issue on the backburner and had other priorities to pursue than going for a tough gamble of amending the constitution, after the former prime minister was disqualified and ousted.

The PPP avoided embarking upon a risky venture just a few months before the elections. It was felt that any wrong move at this stage would impinge hard on its campaign.

A key factor, which made the commission lose its steam, was the boycott of its proceedings by the three PML-N MPs from day one. They were nominated by the speaker without taking their party into confidence.

Another reason discouraging for the commission was the Punjab Assembly speaker’s refusal to name two members, one each from the government and the opposition benches. He even threatened to challenge the formation of the commission in a superior court.

Clause 4 of article 239 of the constitution prescribes the procedure to create new provinces. It says a bill constitution which would have the effect of altering the limits of a province shall not be presented to the president for assent unless it has been passed by the concerned provincial assembly by the votes of not less than two-third of its total membership.

Thus, even after its passage in the two houses of parliament, such a bill would have to be approved by the Punjab Assembly with two-third majority before its presentation to the president where the ruling alliance has no such number.

This clause makes no mention of any parliamentary commission that the speaker has formed. Also, it doesn’t talk about any role of the president or his reference.

The commission was constituted in pursuance of a reference sent to the speaker by the president, which was read out in the National Assembly, in the wake of a resolution passed by the lower house of parliament, and two motions approved by the Punjab legislature, which were jointly sponsored by the PPP and PML-N.

However, later the PML-N dominated Punjab Assembly passed another resolution rejecting the parliamentary commission.

The News