ISLAMABAD - In a significant development, the Senate on Monday unanimously passed a constitutional amendment bill to increase Balochistan assembly seats from the existing 65 to 80 to “address deprivation” of the poverty-stricken province.

All 71 members present in the house, in a rare demonstration of accord, voted in favour of the proposed the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that seeks to amend Article 106 of the Constitution.

The bill was moved in the house by 19 lawmakers of Balochistan representing all parliamentary parties including PML-N, PPP, Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP), Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), National Party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) besides independent lawmakers from the province. Senator Sajjad Hussain Turi of erstwhile FATA was the 20th mover of the landmark bill.

The bill proposes that the Balochistan’s provincial assembly should have 63 general seats besides 13 for women and four for non-Muslims.The bill is set to sail through the National Assembly smoothly to become an act of the parliament after the President’s assent.

The original bill titled “the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (Amendment of Article 51 and 106)” was introduced in the house on September 2, 2019 and also sought to increase Balochistan’ seats in National Assembly by amending Article 51 of the constitution.

However, the house law committee chaired by PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi unanimously rejected the amendment on the grounds that the proposal was not in accordance with the constitutional scheme. The committee noted that this would involve changes in representation from other provinces as well. It also pointed out that National Assembly seats under the constitutional scheme are allocated in accordance with the population of provinces.

The statement of objects and reasons of the bill says that according to the 1998 Census, the population of Balochistan was 6.5 million and 51 general seats were allotted to the province at that time. The latest figures of 2017 Census reveal that the population in Balochistan has increased to 12.3 million people over the last 20 years but the number of seats still remains the same, it reads.

“Therefore, increase of seats in the Provincial Assembly of Balochistan will address the deprivation of the people of Balochistan by giving them more representation and their resolve of fighting the national security challenges,” it adds.

Separately, the government surprisingly opposed another constitutional amendment bill that seeks to increase benches of higher courts across the country to provide inexpensive justice to the litigants.

The bill titled the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (Amendment of Article 198) was to be moved by PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi was opposed by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan on the plea that the bill in its present form would disturb the concept of trichotomy of powers. He said that the bill amounted to interference of the parliament in the domain of executive.

After a heated debate; when it was put to vote, it got 57 votes in its favour and 13 against it and thus lacked the required two third majority for a constitutional amendment to get it passed from the house.

The opposition staged a protest walkout from the house over the government’s behaviour. Senator Javed Abbasi said that the bill sought to provide speedy and inexpensive justice to the litigants and was rejected only because it was sponsored by opposition.

The state minister agreed that the spirit of the bill was good but insisted the government and the opposition should bring a consensus bill. He asked the chair to refer the matter to the committee again. The opposition members later came back to the House for voting on the constitution amendment bill to increase number of seats of Balochistan’s provincial assembly.