Islamabad: A Pakistani parliamentary panel has finalised a proposal for carving out a new province that will comprise almost one-third of the politically crucial province of Punjab, triggering angry protests from the main opposition PML-N.
The Parliamentary Commission on Creation of New Provinces in Punjab, headed by senior Pakistan Peoples Party leader Farhatullah Babar, yesterday approved the draft of a constitutional amendment bill for creating the province of "Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab".
The new province, which will be Pakistan`s fifth, will comprise three southern divisions and two western districts of Punjab, which is currently ruled by the PML-N led by former premier Nawaz Sharif.
The PML-N, which has been boycotting the commission`s proceedings, has announced that it will not accept the panel`s recommendations.
PML-N leaders have been accusing the PPP of "bulldozing" the parliamentary process for creating new provinces just to gain political mileage out of the demand for a new province in southern Punjab ahead of the next general election, scheduled to be held by May.
The parliamentary panel`s report on the new province will be presented in the National Assembly or lower house of parliament next week.
Members of the panel said the constitutional amendment bill covered all issues, including distribution of the financial resources of Punjab.
PPP lawmaker Jamsheed Dasti, a member of the commission, told reporters that the creation of a new province was the demand of the people of southern Punjab and Bahawalpur.
The PPP-led government is only acting to fulfil this demand according to the Constitution, he said.
Former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani has been among the vocal proponents for the creation of the new province as the move is closely linked to his electoral fortunes.
He said the new province would be formed before elections.
Some people were opposing the province for "their vested interests but they would have to face defeat", Gilani said.
The province will be created at any cost because this was the demand of people and a resolution had already been passed on the matter by the Punjab Assembly, he added.
Media reports said the constitutional bill states that the assembly of the new province will comprise 123 members, including 25 seats reserved for women and minorities.
It will be represented by 59 members in the 342-member National Assembly.
The PML-N has been worried by the move as its leaders believe their party’s clout in national politics will be diminished once the new province is carved out of Punjab.’
The 371-member Punjab Assembly too will be reduced to a 248-member House.
Senator Farhatullah Babar, who is also the spokesman for the President, told reporters last week that the new province cannot be carved out without approval by a two-thirds majority in the Punjab Assembly.
Even if the National Assembly and Senate pass the constitutional amendment bill with a two-thirds majority, the President cannot sign it into law before its passage by the Punjab Assembly.
The PML-N supports the creation of Bahawalpur and Seraiki provinces in Punjab and wants a national commission to take up demands for creating other provinces like the Hazara province comprising parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.