New Provinces and Provincial Autonomy – By Shahid Hamid
Given that the creation of new provinces any time soon is not a viable option, Parliament should proceed with all due speed to devolve further powers from the Federation to the Provinces by deleting the Concurrent List of 47 subjects or at least most of this List.
The issue of new provinces and provincial autonomy was also crucial and the 1973 Constitution originally envisaged these scenarios.
For instance, Article 1 of the 1973 Constitution envisaged the possible return of East Pakistan on vacation of Indian aggression.
The enabling provision in this behalf was done away with by the First Amendment to the Constitution in 1974.
Article 1 also defines the territories that comprise Pakistan. These are the four Provinces, the Islamabad Capital Territory, the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas and such other territories as may be included in Pakistan.
Has the time not come to end the anomalous status of the seven FATAs either by including them in the NWFP or by constituting them into one or more new province(s) after ascertaining the views of the tribesmen through their jirgas as provided in Article 247 of the Constitution? Has the time also not come to fully absorb the Northern Areas into the body politic of Pakistan by declaring them to be a new province of Pakistan? Is there any need to keep pending such absorption till a final settlement of the Kashmir issue when, for many other purposes, we do not consider the Northern Areas to be part of Kashmir? Even if neither of these steps can be taken immediately, surely there is a need to settle a strategy and set a time frame for achieving these objectives.
Both these matters also find mention in the Charter of Democracy signed by the late Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif. When the Province of West Pakistan Establishment Act was enacted by the Constituent Assembly in 1955 there were as many as 15 provinces, states and areas that were merged into what became the â€˜Superâ€™ Province of West Pakistan.
These were the Governorâ€™s Provinces of Punjab, Sindh and NWFP, the Chief Commissionerâ€™s Provinces of Balochistan and Karachi, the Balochistan States Union, the States of Bahawalpur and Khairpur, the tribal areas of Punjab, Balochistan and NWFP and the States of Amb, Dir, Chitral and Swat. If, while undoing One Unit i.e. West Pakistan, General Yahya Khan had simply repealed the West Pakistan Act of 1955, 15 constituent units would have re-emerged and not six viz the four Provinces, the Islamabad Capital Territory and the FATAs.
The four provinces with their enlarged boundaries are the creation of the West Pakistan Dissolution Order of 1970. Pakistan was created under the leadership of the Quaid by our fathers and forefathers and not by the four provinces in their present shape and form. This is perhaps not the right time to consider the creation of new provinces when the finances of the country are under strain and one of the two major political parties suspects that the motivation is other than the national interest.
The issue of more provinces nevertheless needs to be addressed in a longer term perspective. There is an intrinsic link between this issue and that of provincial autonomy. This link is best explained by comparing the relevant provisions of the Pakistan and Indian Constitutions. Under the Indian Constitution there are 97 subjects in the Union i.e. Federal List, another 47 in the Concurrent List, a total of 144. In our 1973 Constitution there are 67 subjects in the Federal List, another 47 in the Concurrent List, a total of 114. India started with 14 States i.e. provinces.
It now has 28. Indiaâ€™s constitutional procedures for division of their States are much simpler than ours. All that is required is a simple majority in Parliament on a reference made by their President after ascertaining the views of the concerned State Assembly.
In Pakistan, especially in our smaller provinces, there are large sections of political and public opinion demanding the abolition of the Concurrent List in order for the provinces to have true autonomy. There is no such demand of any significance in India. If there were 15 or 25 (as at one time mooted by General Zia-ul-Haq) provinces in Pakistan it would be unnecessary and impractical to devolve further powers from the Federation to the provinces.
Creation of more provinces in Pakistan will, in the long run, strengthen and not weaken the Federation. There is yet another important aspect of this issue. Punjab with nearly 60% of the total population is a super-large province. It is larger than most countries of the world. There are one or two countries which have provinces of the size of Punjab in terms of population but in none of these countries do such provinces constitute a majority of the total population.
Citizens of the three smaller provinces are resentful of Punjabâ€™s dominance in the affairs of the Federation. Russia dominated the affairs of the Soviet Union. Similarly Serbia was dominant in the erstwhile Yugoslav Federation. This dominance was one of the major causes of the collapse of both these Federations.
In the late 1960s the Biafran revolt in Nigeria was caused at least in part by the dominance of the Northern Region which was larger than the Eastern and Western Regions combined. The insurgency very nearly led to the break-up of Nigeria. In the aftermath of the Biafran civil war Nigeria has re-organised itself. Prior to the Biafran revolt it had just three Regions i.e. provinces. It now has as many as 36 States.
Is it not time that we too should do away with boundaries that make us think and act as Punjabis, Sindhis, Pashtuns and Baloch? Does such thinking promote national integration? Given that the creation of new provinces any time soon is not a viable option, Parliament should proceed with all due speed to devolve further powers from the Federation to the Provinces by deleting the Concurrent List of 47 subjects or at least most of this List.
While it may be desirable to have some degree of uniformity of laws on these subjects this purpose can be achieved where required through Article 144 which empowers Parliament to make laws, if two or more Provincial Assemblies pass resolutions asking Parliament to do so, on subjects not included in the Federal or Concurrent Legislative Lists.
The deletion of the Concurrent List and the consequent devolution of powers to the Provinces will not weaken the strength and stability of the Federation.
The abolition of the Concurrent List has been agreed to by the major political parties in the Charter of Democracy signed by them.
Practically all the smaller political parties are also demanding deletion of this List. Why then has it not happened?
The answer is not far to seek. It is because of vested interests: ministers who will lose their jobs if their subjects and powers are transferred to the provinces and the thousands of bureaucrats who will have to re-locate from Islamabad to the provincial capitals.
This article is the second of a seven-part series. The first part was published yesterday. The author is a former civil servant, cabinet minister and Governor of Punjab.
“Source: Daily Times”