A new debate has taken hold of the country whether the number of existing provinces be maintained or new provinces should be carved out of the existing provinces. In this regard, demand for creation of three new provinces is getting momentum. The politicians and other segments of society have also held rallies in favour of their demands. The people of Abbotabad Division and other adjoining areas are demanding for a “Hazara province” and thus reducing the area of the existing province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Likewise, the creation of “Saraiki province” is also being demanded. This demand has also attained support of some important political parties of the country ie, Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League. Before partition of the sub-continent, Bahawalpur used to be a separate state which merged into Pakistan/Punjab after independence. Some national political parties are demanding that the original status of Bahawalpur state should be restored or a “Bahawalpur Province” be made.
In the above context, provisions of Article 239(4) of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 are relevant to mention. In Articles 238 and 239, the Constitution empowers the Parliament to make any amendment in the Constitution by an act of Parliament. The procedure in detail, to affect an amendment is given in Article 239 of the Constitution. In view of this author, clause (4) of Article 239 needs to be read with Article 1 of the Constitution to achieve the purpose of creating new provinces out of the existing provinces. For convenience, I reproduce clause (4) of Article 239, which reads as under:
“A bill to amend the Constitution which would have the effect of altering the limits of a Province shall not be presented to the President for assent unless it has been passed by the Provincial Assembly of the Province by votes not less than two-thirds of its total membership.”
If the demand of taking out the Abbotabad Division etc is granted to carve out the province of Hazara from the present province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it would certainly alter the limits of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Thus clause (4) of Article 239 would be attracted. Likewise, Article 239, clause (4) would also be attracted in case Saraiki province is created or the state of Bahawalpur is restored/Bahawalpur is made a new province. Likewise, Article 1 of the Constitution would also be required to be amended in accordance with the provisions of Articles 238 and 239 of the Constitution.
In the Indian Constitution, in Article 1, clause (3)( c) word acquire has been used to meet the similar situation. The states (provinces) in India as they existed prior to their constitution had been formed largely as a result of historical accident and circumstances and there had, therefore, been a demand for the re-organisation of the component units of the Indian Union on a more fractional basis, after taking into account not only the growing importance of the regional languages, but also financial, economic and administrative considerations. Hence, to meet the above need, the State Re-organisation Commission was constituted in India in December 1953. The commission submitted its report on 30 September 1955. In light of the said report of the above commission, states (provinces) in India were re-organised.
Nowadays, as noted above, in Pakistan demand for new provinces is increasing almost in all existing provinces. Before the governments in Pakistan decide to concede to the demand of making new provinces, a commission consisting of experts in different areas may be constituted following the Indian experience. Any decision taken in rush or just for political consideration might prove counterproductive.
In 1996, the Indian Parliament passed the Punjab Re-organisation Act (XXXI of 1996) for the re-organisation of the state of Punjab with effect from 1 November 1996. A new state (province), to be known as the state of Haryana, comprising of certain territories of the existing state of Punjab, was established. Some areas were also transferred from Punjab to Himachal Pradesh.
Demands are being made in our Punjab also to carve out three new provinces ie, Pothohar, Saraikastan and Bahawalpur. This is a serious development and needs to be handled dispassionately, with all honesty and sincerity. In my view, new provinces may be made on the basis of regional languages, financial, economic and administrative considerations as happened in India, instead of accomplishment of political advantages and for immediate political dividends to certain political families in the existing or the proposed new provinces.
The writer is a former judge of the Lahore High Court and former Advocate General of Punjab.