LAHORE - Following the passage of National Assembly (NA) resolution on creation of south Punjab province, the Federal and Punjab governments have come up with conflicting views over the modus operandi of creating new federating units.

The Centre maintains that the procedure to amend the constitution for the purpose should start from Punjab Assembly; whereas the Punjab government thinks that the same should begin from the National Assembly. Constitutional experts also differ on the subject with some believing that either side could initiate the process.

The NA resolution in question calls upon the Punjab Assembly to present a bill in the Assembly to start the constitutional procedure to amend the constitution in accordance with article 239(4) for creating what it calls ‘the Province of Janoobi Punjab’.

The concerned Article 239 (4) reads: “A bill to amend the 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 Provincial Assembly of that province by the votes of not less than two-thirds of its total membership”. When contacted to know Punjab Government’s point of view on the issue, Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sana Ullah said Article 239 (4) of the Constitution on the subject was very much clear which spoke of the role of the Parliament as the body to initiate the process of amending the constitution for creation of new provinces.

“One is left with no doubt or little ambiguity when the relevant article states that President will not assent a bill altering boundaries of a province unless the same [already passed by the Parliament according to him] has also been passed with two-thirds majority of the provincial assembly concerned”, the law minister maintained, adding the Centre should have passed a bill and not a resolution to initiate the process.

“This is the reason that PML-N has termed the resolution unconstitutional,” the minister observed.  Rana further explained that as per the existing constitutional position, if a new province has to be created in any province, the Parliament (National Assembly and Senate) will have to pass a bill with two-thirds majority of the total membership which will then be sent to the Provincial Assembly concerned for adoption, again with the two-thirds majority, and then the President will assent the bill.

It would be relevant to state here that PML-N had already blocked three resolutions moved by the joint opposition from being presented in the Punjab Assembly on this plea.

When asked if the bill on new province is also passed by the provincial assembly concerned, would it be signed by the provincial governor, the law minister replied in the negative. “It would remain property of the Parliament and not that of the Punjab Assembly because it originated from the former and the president is the signing authority,” he affirmed. Asked if the Punjab Assembly will take up the NA resolution in its next session, the minister said: “We would not entertain it for the reason that constitution makes mention of a bill and not a resolution”.  It may be mentioned here that federal government is sending the resolution to Punjab Assembly in the next few days for its adoption.

Sources in the federal ministry of law, however, insisted that the bill to amend the constitution to make new provinces should originate from the concerned provincial assembly. “That is why the National Assembly has, through its resolution, called upon Punjab Assembly to pass a bill to make a beginning for creation of the province of Janoobi Punjab”, said the source, adding if the Punjab government did not honour the resolution, the federal government would amend the constitution to end the role of the provincial assembly concerned in making of new provinces.

In that case, the source added, it would not be required to send the bill to the Punjab Assembly for approval after the new constitutional amendments become part of the constitution.  Noted lawyer, SM Zafar believes that the bill to make new provinces could be initiated either from the provincial assembly concerned or from the Parliament. Talking to TheNation, he said that language used in the relevant Article of the constitution was such that it could be interpreted in both ways.

It is relevant to state here that federal government has not attached the word ‘Seraiki’ with the proposed name for the new province.

It has been dubbed as ‘the Province of Janoobi Punjab’ instead of ‘Seraiki Province’ as is being mentioned in speeches of different PPP leaders.