Before the final approval of President Asif Ali Zardari, the bill will still require to secure the vote with a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly as well as the Punjab Assembly, if it is to pass.
And if passed the Constitution (Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2013, having eight clauses, will formally pave the way for creation of Bahawalpur province (South Punjab) out of the existing Punjab. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz – the major opposition party in the Senate – boycotted the proceedings before the bill was put to vote. It opposed the bill, abstained from voting, and said through this legislation, an effort was being made to disintegrate Pakistan; it would prove to be the first step towards this end.
The National Party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and Pakistan Muslim League-Functional from treasury benches also abstained from voting. No JUI-F member was present in the House at the time of the voting, nor was any member from of the NP as well as the PML-F, who left the House following the PML-N.
The bill got 70 votes, almost a two-thirds majority in the House of 104 members, mainly from the PPP, ANP, BNP-Awami, PML-Q and MQM, besides senators from FATA.
The House omitted the ninth clause in the bill, as reported by Senate’s Standing Committee on Law, meant to amend Article 239(4) of the Constitution proposing insertion of words "creating a new province from the limits of an existing province" on an amendment proposed by PPP Senator Sardar Ahmed Ali. It was primarily the demand of the MQM and ANP.
When the House rejected all of the amendments proposed by independent lawmaker, Mohsin Leghari, with a two-third majority votes, he walked out as the chair did not give him the floor to explain his amendments.
When the bill was tabled, the lawmakers from the opposition benches and a PMLF member from treasury side stated the Constitution did not permit Parliament to create a new province but rather alter the boundaries of the existing ones; the move o f the government was political in nature. They stressed the need for amending Article 239(4), at first, to create a new province. They also said the report of the commission on creation of new provinces out of the Punjab did not address the various issues, such as water resources distribution, assets as well as liabilities and NFC Award arising out of the creation of a new province.
They questioned why the coalition government was tabling this bill when it did not have a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly as well as the Punjab Assembly to secure the vote for its passage. Even some lawmakers called for a referendum in the areas falling in the proposed province for the very purpose.
Before leaving the House, Opposition Leader Ishaq Dar, while opposing the bill, said that there was no room in the Constitution for creation of a new province. He also expressed his reservations on the formation of the commission on new provinces, saying the Punjab Assembly, through a resolution passed on August 29, 2012, rejected such a body terming it against the soul of two resolutions passed by the provincial assembly. Dar held that the constitutional amendment bill was nothing but a political stunt, and a drama being played for the next general elections by the ruling party to raise the stakes. Hasil Khan Bazenjo of Balochistan’s National Party said this amendment would cause a defeat to the PPP even in Sindh. It was a miscalculation of the PPP that it could win the next elections as a result of this amendment, he went on to say.
Muzaffar Hussain Shah of the PML-F also opposed the constitutional amendment, saying the proposed amendment would open a ‘pandora box’ in the constitutional framework because it was not the high time for its passage into law. He proposed a referendum instead.
Mohsin Leghari, an independent candidate hailing from south Punjab, said two resolutions passed by the Punjab Assembly on May 9, 2012 were not followed while drafting the proposed legislation. He said the issues like NFC award, water resources distribution and representation in civil service were not addressed in the proposed amendment.
Defending the bill, the chairman of the commission on new provinces, Senator Farhatullah Babar, said it was not a political stunt, but a conscious and deliberate political initiative to address the genuine grievances and deprivations of the people of South Punjab. He said the constitutional and legal provisions did exist to determine the distribution of resources between the federating units.
These included Articles 153, 154 and 155 relating to the Council of Common Interest (CCI), the Water Accord of 1991 and Article 155 (1) of the Constitution for addressing disputes in water issues, Article 156 relating to the National Economic Council and Article 160 relating to National Finance Commission and all other Articles relating to the rights of the provinces would come into play for the resolution of all ancillary matters.
"When we read the Article 1 along with Article 239(4), we will come to know that Parliament had the powers to create a province," he added.
Earlier, the MQM walked out of the House over what Tahir Mushhadi called the federal and Sindh governments’ uncaring attitude towards the people affected by the Abbas Town blast in Karachi.
The House also unanimously passed the Global Change Impact Studies Centre Bill, 2013, and the Defence Housing Authority Islamabad Bill, 2013. The National Assembly had already passed these two bills.