LAHORE - By way of pointing out quorum, opposition in the Punjab Assembly on Wednesday thwarted passage of a bill on setting up urban development authorities throughout the province when the chair was going through its second reading after rejecting all objections raised by the opposition.
The Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan prolonged the proceedings by half an hour beyond the stipulated time for the sake of carrying the bill namely, the Punjab Development of Cities (Amendment) Bill 2014. But the opposition in its third move of pointing out the quorum less than the minimum strength of 93 members, succeeded in blocking enactment of the bill after raising ‘serious’ objections to the same which however were ruled out by the PML-N-led huge treasury in the House. The Treasury will now get the bill passed in the next sitting.
The bill was presented by Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan. The opposition, considering the bill as aim at supplanting the LG system by virtue of setting up chief minister-led development authorities in all 37 districts of Punjab, wanted the chair to defer debate on it till April 30 to let the public give their suggestions and opinions on it.
Mahmudur Rashid-led opposition opposed the bill saying it violated Article 140-A of the Constitution as it took away the powers which otherwise were the prerogative of the local governments. The bill concentrated all powers into the hand of the CM rendering the LG redundant, they said, adding, an ill-intention of the government to avoid holding of the LG polls in Punjab lay behind the bill as its passage would make the authorities to do what the LGs had, hence minimizing chance of the polls at the local level being held. They said after authorities on health and education under the LG Act had been set up, the bill would be last nail in the coffin of the LG system. They said the bill had to take the bottom level powers to the top level in the hand of the CM which ran contrary to democratic dispensation of the system.
The opposition members were also dissatisfied with the proposed enactment which they said, allowed the CM to appoint the persons of his choice as members of the Authority who would be empowered to possess any private property on the plea of public welfare scheme hence qabza mafia would become stronger in the province. The opposition members further said the compensation for the property so taken into possession was also without a clear cut mechanism. They said the bill could not be carried without bringing changes in the structure of the LG system. They further said if the law was passed in haste it would meet the same fate as LG met with regards to the delimitation of the constituencies which were struck by the High Court as carried out by the government in violation of the Constitution. If the bill also met the same, it would bring embarrassment to the members and undermine value of the House, they viewed.
The law minister addressing concerns of the opposition said that no violation of the Constitution had been committed anywhere as this law book nowhere mentions presentation of such legislation before the public for debate but rests on their elected representative the responsibility to legislate. He said the new LG system was changed from the Nazim-based system of the past and the Authority under the bill has to fill the vacuum which this shift is going to create without disturbing the intrinsic spirit of the system at the grassroots. He also ruled out that authorities will be set in 37 districts but only in five main cities. He said the acquired property will be compensated at the market price as determined under the Land Acquisition Act and any member can bring a bill if he will desire any amendment to the Act to have the market value according to the demand of the owner.
Earlier on a point of order, Jamal Khan Leghari informed the House about the kidnapping of as many as 20 women from West Punjab and currently detained by Ghulam Hussain Zanglani of Tumman Khosa who was subjecting them all to ‘open sexual assaults and torture.’ He said the matter was in the knowledge of the border security force but it was helpless to take action due to poor equipment while the women were crying for help. He urged the chair to appoint special paratroops to rescue the abductees. The law minister replying to it said the member should adopt a proper procedure to let the House know what actual situation was and which department needed to take what action.
Three bills namely the Punjab Employees’ Efficiency, Discipline and Accountability (Amendment) Bill 2014, the Punjab Civil Servants (Amendment) Bill 2014 and the Punjab Livestock Breeding Bill 2014 were also introduced in the House which the chair referred to the standing committees concerned for report within a month.
Earlier during the question-hour about Youth Affairs, Sports, Archaeology and Tourism department, the House turned into a fish market when the opposition alleged corruption of crores of rupees in the Punjab Youth Festival spending and wanted inquiry. The minister concerned Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan refuted the allegations and said auditing of the account was carried out at every step and every penny was found transparently spent. He said many world records had been achieved in the events. Through the sports activity, he said, a cultural change was being brought about to enable the youth to live in healthy environment and turn to constructive national building activity.
He said at a time when no country was ready to take part in sports activity in the country, sportsmen from 26 countries took part in the Youth Festival and 40 would participate in the National Youth Festival next year which all was going to promote soft image of the country.
The leader of the opposition said the tales of huge bungling in funds of Youth Festival were common today and it was being heard that two lakh tracksuits were got sewed at the cost of Rs 1,100 each when the actual cost was not more than Rs 400. He wanted chair to hold inquiry into what he said was ‘mega corruption.’ This led the treasury and the opposition locked in sloganeering and hooting which created a highly messy scene in the House. The chair interfered to stop the rumpus and when the House returned to order the minister said that only 15,000 tracksuits were got stitched and the transaction of money for this purpose was monitored by 12 committees while rules were strictly observed in the process. Seven adjournment motions on different issues were also read out but none of them found reply from the department concerned despite they were filed to the office in mid February and around. The chair asked the Parliamentary Secretary to ensure reply to them till Monday next.
The House was adjourned till 10am on Thursday (today).