KARACHI - The Sindh Assembly yesterday became the first assembly of the country to unanimously pass Hindus Marriage Bill, 2016, that will give minorities, especially Hindus, Jain and Sikhs, for the first time, to get their marriages registered.

Buddhism was also included by the government in the definition of Hindus, but it was removed after an amendment from MQM lawmaker Syed Sardar Ahmed, citing it an entirely different religion from Hinduism.

The bill, which will be implemented with immediate effect, was tabled by Senior Education Minister and Parliamentary Affairs Nisar Ahmed Khuhro for urgent consideration despite insistence from opposition benches on sending it to the standing committee.

The passed bill stated the marriage ceremony could only be conducted if the couple was 18 years old or above, they are able to give consent and are given right to free consent. It also stated that none of the couple should have a spouse living at the time of marriage and at least two witnesses should be present at the time of the ceremony. Since the bill used term Hindus for defining Sikh and Jain religions also, it gave right to them to solemnise marriages in accordance with their customary rites and ceremonies.

The marriage will have to be registered with the union council, ward or any other municipal authority, where the ceremony takes place within 45 days.

The marriage will be registered with the official concerned who will verify the conditions set out for the marriage and will then write it down in a register to be maintained by that office. The entries in the marriage register should be signed by the person solemnising the marriage, the couple, two witnesses and the officer concerned under his official stamp.

Rs 1,000 penalty was also added over delay in registration, but, after an amendment from MQM lawmakers, Sabir Hussain Qaimkhani and Ponjo Bhel, the penalty was omitted.

The bill also included validation and registration of the marriages that were solemnised prior to the commencement of this bill and would be registered with the officer concerned with the same procedure as prescribed under this bill.

It also said the government within three months of the commencement of the bill should notify the rules for the purpose of achieving the objectives of the bill.

Speaking over the bill, the government members, including Sharmila Farouqi and others, appreciated the government move to provide an opportunity to the Hindu community to get their marriages registered, for the first time.

They said PPP had always raised its voice for safeguarding and empowering the minorities and the provincial assembly became the only assembly of the country to pass the bill for registration of Hindus’ marriages.

Opposition leader in Sindh Assembly Khawaja Izharul Hassan, however, pointed out some flaws and said the government once again brought the bill for urgent consideration on the will of someone else.

“We are unable to understand as the government hurried to introduce the bill,” he said. He said the government had added Sikhs to the definition of Hindus which would create a controversy. He also demanded incentive for the families for getting their marriages registered under this law. “The government has also failed to indicate what measures will be taken for marriages below 18 while the issue of safeguarding women’s rights was also neglected in this entire bill,” he said.

The opposition leader also pointed out the missing link of separation of dissolution of a marriage in the bill and asked if the government would bring another law for the purpose.

Senior Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro asked the opposition members who were criticising PPP for delay in bringing this legislation why they were unable to brought this legislation during their tenures.

Meanwhile, the assembly also passed Sindh Sales Tax on Services (Amendment) Bill amid protest from MQM lawmakers amid a heated debate between Khawaja Izhar and Syed Sardar Ahmed of MQM and PPP ministers, Syed Murad Ali Shah and Nisar Ahmed Khuhro.

Senior Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro tabled the bill for consideration. However, the MQM members strongly objected to it. They said these taxes were mostly collected from the urban areas of Sindh and the citizens of these areas should not be overburdened by more taxes. They were of the view that billions of rupees generated by taxes were being misappropriated by the corruption mafia.

The MQM lawmakers alleged tthe PPPP government had not only neglected Karachi and Hyderabad, but had even failed to provide proper civic facilities to Larkana and Khairpur.

The treasury side rejected these allegations of corruption and said the amendment bill was not aimed to levy a new tax. They said why the MQM which was also part of the government in the past failed to improve the conditions of Karachi and other cities of Sindh. The MQM members stood on their seats and raised the slogans of “Go Corruption Go!” They tore the copies of the agenda of the day. The house, however, adopted the bill amid their protest.