Debate of new provinces in Pakistan

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By Mohammad Ali Babakhel

THE merger of Fata with KP has intensified the debate on the creation of new provinces. Historically, regional administrative readjustments have lacked a holistic approach, and have either experienced reversals or lacked full implementation.

For the readjustment of provincial boundaries, Article 290 of the Government of India Act, 1935, was kept elastic. After Independence, India classified the constituent units into four categories. In 1953, it entrusted the task of the reorganisation of state boundaries to the Fazal Ali Commission, which in 1955 recommended that state boundaries be readjusted to form 14 states and three union territories. This led to the further reorganisation of states in 1956.

To evaluate the demand for reorganisation of states on a linguistic basis, in 1948, India appointed the Linguistic Provinces Com­mis­sion under S.K. Dar. The commission rejected reorganisation on such basis and advised, instead, reorganisation in line with geographi­cal contiguity, financial sustainability, administrative viability, and development potential. The Dar Commission report resulted in resentment, and Congress appointed another committee. This too rejected the reorganisation of states along linguistic lines.

A hunger strike leading to the death of Potti Sriramulu forced India to create the first state based along linguistic lines, Andhra, in 1953. The Indian constitution took a liberal stance as Articles 2, 3 and 4 permit parliament to establish new provinces through simple legislation.

In Pakistan, to reduce administrative costs and provincial prejudices, ‘One Unit’ was introduced in the mid-1950s, but the eastern wing interpreted that as an attempt to counterbalance its numerical strength. East Pakistan’s demographic profile was homogenous while West Pakistan had ethnic diversity. During the One Unit, the eastern wing often criticised the parity formula of the 1956 constitution, saying that it compromised the demographic reality.

Where the alteration of provincial limits is concerned, Article 239(4) of the 1973 Constitution provides for a procedure that requires two-thirds of the votes of the total number of the provincial assembly. The renaming of NWFP as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa resulted in the demand for a Hazara province. The recent merger of Fata with KP, which has increased the area and strength of its population, is a test case. Meanwhile, Punjab constitutes 26 per cent of the area of the country and 52.95pc of the population; here, there are demands for the creation of the Seraiki and Bahawalpur provinces. The demand for the former is based on ethnic lines, while that of the latter has historical basis.

In May, 2012, the National Assembly passed a resolution for the creation of a Janoobi [south] Punjab province, and in August 2012, a parliamentary commission was constituted. The resolution asked the Punjab Assembly to move a bill to amend the Constitution. The commission was supposed to have six senators, six MNAs and two MPAs, but the MPAs’ names weren’t provided.

The commission also discussed the option for a Bahawalpur province but noted that Bahawalpur never had provincial status. If Bahawalpur got provincial status, it would give rise to the demand for the same status in Khairpur, Kalat, Swat, and other former princely states. To redress the grievances, the commission proposed the potentially new province be named Bahawalpur-Janoobi Punjab. Meanwhile, a lawmaker demanded that since historically, D.G. Khan had been part of Balochistan, its status ought to be restored.

The commission considered three models. Option one included D.G. Khan, Multan and Bahawalpur (11 districts). Option two had D.G. Khan, Multan and Bahawalpur divisions, and Mian­wali and Bhak­kar districts. Option three proposed Baha­walpur as a separate province. Bahawalpur constitutes 22pc of the population and 10pc of Punjab’s area. Owing to geographical contiguity, administrative convenience, economic potential and social homogeneity the commission suggested option two.

The creation of new provinces will impact the composition of the Senate, the Council of Common Interests, the National Finance Commission, the Election Commission of Pakistan, the National Economic Council, as well as the water accord of 1991. It would require amendment in Articles 1, 51, 59, 106(1), 175A and Article 218 of the Constitution.

To avoid the creation of provinces along linguistic and ethnic lines, Punjab may be divided into Ravi, Cholistan, Gandhara and Panjnad provinces, while the other three provinces may be divided into three provinces each. The creation of new provinces requires a two-thirds majority in the legislative assemblies, the demarcation of boundaries, and consensus on the NFC award, etc. But before such an exercise is undertaken, its consequences must be worked out by a parliamentary committee.

(The writer is the author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace. Twitter: @alibabakhel)