–Submits bill in NA for creation of Bahawalpur and South Punjab provinces
–New bill envisions 15 general and three women’s seats for Bahawalpur province, allocation of 38 seats to South Punjab province
–Ahsan Iqbal says PTI should walk its talk on new provinces, support passage of PML-N’s bill
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Monday submitted a constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly (NA) for the creation of the Bahawalpur and South Punjab provinces, putting the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in quite a pickle.
“We are committed to creating South Punjab province on an administrative basis that respects the wishes of both the people of Punjab as well as each of the other federating units of the country,” the PTI had vowed in its manifesto ahead of the general elections. It had also promised to create a political consensus to pass necessary legislation while stating that as a region, South Punjab constitutes 32% of the population of Punjab and was lagging behind the rest of the province.
The senior leadership of the PTI, including Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, has at multiple instances reiterated its commitment to separate south and central Punjab; however, the development caught it off guard.
The bill submitted to the NA Secretariat by PML-N MNAs Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Tanvir and Rana Sanaullah on Monday, demands that Article 1 of the constitution be amended to create the two new provinces.
The Bahawalpur province will consist of the current administrative division that is considered Bahawalpur, while the current divisions of Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan will fall into the South Punjab province.
The bill also calls for changes to Article 51, which will see to the changes in the allocation of seats in the NA, making way for representation of the two new provinces in parliament.
According to the bill, once the amendment is done, Bahawalpur will have 15 general and three women’s’ seats, bringing the total count of seats to 18. The bill also calls for the allocation of 38 seats to the South Punjab province.
After the amendment, the total number of seats on the NA would rise to 326, out of which 266 will be general seats while 60 will be women-specific seats.
The amendment also calls for relevant changes to be made in article 59 of the constitution.
The amendment also calls for 39 seats of the Punjab provincial assembly to be allocated for Bahawalpur, out of which 31 should be general and eight should be women-only. According to the bill, 80 seats should be allocated for the South Punjab province, out of which 64 should be general seats while 14 should be women-specific and two should be allocated for minorities.
The bill also calls for an amendment in Article 154 on the constitution, through which a National Commission for the Creation of New Provinces should be constituted to deal with the area and other such specifications of the new provinces.
The bill also says that Article 175(a) of the constitution should be amended to create principle seats of the Supreme Court (SC) and the high court in the new provinces.
The bill pointed out that on May 9, 2012, the Punjab Assembly had already approved the creation of these provinces.
The bill also said that the people of these areas have been seeking the creation of these new provinces for a very long time and have been working towards this demand.
It is noteworthy that the PTI is believed to have received a lion’s share from the Punjab vote bank in the 2018 general elections owing to its promise of establishing a separate province for the “much-neglected” southern districts.
The merger of the Junoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz (JPSM) – a political entity comprising disgruntled PML-N leaders of south Punjab – with the PTI had also taken place on the basis of the demand for a separate province just ahead of the general polls.
PML-N SEEKS GOVT’S UNCONDITIONAL SUPPORT:
Speaking to the media regarding this development, PML-N leaders Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Marriyum Aurangzeb and Ahsan Iqbal said that their party will support the government unconditionally if it sincerely plans to create the two promised provinces.
“PML-N has achieved another milestone by submitting a constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly,” Iqbal said while addressing the presser Monday.
“If the government is serious on the matter of creating the province, then the opposition will unconditionally second it,” he added.
The former interior minister also said his party had promised people for the new province as per their aspirations. “If the incumbent government is sincere in its claim then it should move the bill forward for the formation of the provinces.”
The development that has put the ruling PTI in a tight spot in light of its unfulfilled promise was also hinted at by PML-N president and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif back in December.
Speaking on the floor of the Lower House, he had said the PML-N was ready to extend its “full cooperation” for the creation of a south Punjab province and the restoration of the Bahawalpur province in Punjab.
“PML-N is considering tabling a private bill for this purpose and demanded that the government extend support in this regard.”
When PTI lawmaker Amir Dogar had accused the opposition parties of “point scoring” on the issue, Shehbaz had responded by saying, “This is not point scoring. Don’t talk about the past or a Pandora’s Box will open.”
Dogar was of the view that the PML-N was politicking on the issue by seeking the restoration of the Bahawalpur province.
“The Bahawalpur province is not viable: how can three districts be declared a separate province?” he had asked, adding that a committee should be constituted to look into the matter.
However, the PML-N chief had said the PTI had also promised to create the South Punjab province and it should now take steps for its implementation. “Don’t run away from the [creation of the] province; the government itself had promised it,” Shehbaz had reminded the treasury benches.