LAHORE – Not a single private bill has sailed through the Punjab legislature in the past two and half years, though it passed 75 bills introduced by the government during the period.

Assembly secretariat received 13 notices in respect of private bills, but they were not considered for adoption on different pretexts. Two private bills on prohibition of child marriage and sheesha smoking were referred to the concerned House committees for recommendations but they are sitting over them since long.

A bill on domestic violence against women submitted by two private members, Faiza Malik and Dr Nosheen Hamid was knocked out on technical grounds even before presentation to the Assembly. The movers were told that government intended to bring its own bill on the subject, and hence there was no need for a private bill.

The government later introduced “The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence bill, 2015, but it is yet to be taken up by the House.

This only proves government’s utter disregard for the opposition whose good initiatives on the assembly floor would not find majority support for political reasons. Even a private bill by a treasury member will not be welcomed in the Assembly no matter how important the subject matter may be.

A private bill on prohibition of sheesha smoking moved by a treasury member Ch Shahbaz is a case in point. It was referred to a House committee for consideration on March 11, 2015. House is still awaiting its return despite passage of over one-and-half year.

During the first parliamentary year, out of 4,724 questions pertaining to working of different departments, only 2,757 were admitted to be taken up by the Assembly, but only 1,210 were actually answered by the ministers concerned. Some 334 questions were disallowed at the initial stage.

Out of 1,743 adjournment motions, only 400 were admitted. Similarly, out of 686 notices of calling attention by Assembly members, 479 were admitted for consideration of the legislature, but only 52 were answered by the government.

It is worth mentioning here that it is through adjournment motions, calling attention notices and questions that members point out corrupt and illegal practices in provincial departments. If many of their questions or motions are either killed at the initial stage or not answered properly, the role of the assembly to act as a watch dog on the working of departments is largely undermined.

Out of 55 privilege motions submitted by the lawmakers in the Assembly Secretariat, 33 were admitted for consideration of the House. While 23 of these were referred to the Privilege Committee for disposal, six were rejected by majority vote.

Nonetheless, Punjab Assembly deserves credit for its pro-women legislation. It passed three bills during the period for the betterment of women, the most important being the one providing for establishment of Commission on the status of women.

The Commission has been mandated to review laws, rules and regulations affecting the status and rights of women and suggest repeals of existing laws and draft new legislation for empowerment of women, expansion of opportunities for socio-economic development of women and elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

Punjab Fair Representation of Women Act, 2014 is another important piece of legislation in this regard. It ensures 33 per cent representation of women in the boards of all statutory organisations, public sector companies, special purpose task forces and committees. Through an amendment in the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961, the Punjab Assembly has enacted to ensure expeditious resolution of family disputes in courts of law.

During the first Parliamentary year, the Punjab legislature remained in session for 100 mandatory days but actually met for 71 days if the two weekly and public holidays are excluded from the total count. It passed 31 bills, out of which only nine were the new pieces of legislation while the rest were mere amendments introduced in the existing laws.

The Assembly also passed a highly controversial law in its first Parliamentary year whereby the jurisdiction of Lahore Development Authority was extended to the entire Lahore division and the Punjab Chief Minister was made its Chairman. The Opposition had raised objection to a provision in this law according to which six private real estate agencies, some of them owned by the PML-N men, have been given the authority to purchase private land for development purposes from the owners. The LDA would then acquire this land from these companies.

The second parliamentary year saw enhanced legislation compared to the previous year. The Assembly passed 37 bills out of which 16 were amendments in the existing laws. The House admitted 10 privilege motions by members in the second year compared to 16 in the first one. The number of adjournment motions admitted for debate stood at 399 in the second year whereas the number was 400 in the first year.

The Assembly passed 46 resolutions of public interest during the second year as against 48 in the previous year. The most important piece of legislation during the second year was the passage of Compulsory Education bill. It provides for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years. It was passed in line with Article 25A of the Constitution which enjoins that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years. But this remains the only legislation by the Assembly which shall not come into effect immediately unlike other laws. It would be up to the government to decide when to start implementation on its provisions.

Assembly passed Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission bill during the second Parliamentary year. Through this legislation, the government would receive and redress the grievances of overseas Pakistanis relating to government agencies and refer complaints and suggestions of overseas Pakistanis to the concerned offices.

Another significant bill passed by the Assembly relates to the establishment of Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute and Research Center to provide state of the art medical and surgical services to patients with kidney, bladder, prostrate, liver and pancreas diseases irrespective of race, religion, color, creed, ethnic or financial status of patients. This institute shall provide free of cost or own cost basis diagnosis and treatment of kidney, liver and bladder diseases and also educate people about prevention of these diseases.

In the first six months of third parliamentary year, the Assembly passed seven bills in its 33 sittings. The bills on establishment of universities in Sahiwal and Jhang, and upgrading the status of Fatima Jinnah Medical College into a university can be regarded as the most important pieces of legislation in this period.

The actual sittings in the last six months come to 25 if the two weekly holidays are excluded. But they are also counted towards the 100 mandatory days during which the Assembly has to be in session.