Encroachments on watercourses now non-bailable offence


The Sindh Assembly on Wednesday declared the encroachment of the natural and artificial depression watercourses a non-bailable offence, and also paid rich tributes to the Oscar Award-winning Karachi-born filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for her “spectacular achievement”. Suggesting punishments extendable to a maximum of 10-year imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1 million, the bill cancels all sorts of lease granted by any authority or court of law of the government land situated on the natural and artificial depression watercourses meant for the discharge of rain or floodwater. “Notwithstanding any grant or lease … shall stand resumed to government and shall be exclusively used for such purpose (discharge of rain or floodwater),” the bill said, adding, “The offence punishable under this sub-section shall be non-bailable.” According to statements of objects and reasons, in 2011 encroachments had obstructed the smooth flow of rainwater through the said depression courses, thus rendering “severe damages” of human and infrastructural nature to the provinces. “With a view to remove the encroachments … it is expedient to make some suitable amendments in the Sindh Irrigation Act-1879 by providing severe punishment therein, so that the encroachment is removed in the public interest,” the statement said. “The flow of gravity is hindered by these encroachers and this actually leads to devastating calamities which are man-made and not natural,” said Information Minister Shazia Marri while commenting on the bill. Though the passage of Sindh Irrigation (Amendment) Act-2011 requires the provincial government to get the encroached land vacated within seven days of the commencement of the law; Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) lawmakers like Dr Sikandar Mandhro and Humera Alwani said implementation of the law would be a daunting task for the government, as much of the encroached land is 60 years old and at some points, encompass entire villages. The lawmakers who delivered speeches, included Ayaz Soomro, Sassui Palijo, Munawar Abbasi, Jam Tamachi, Dr Sikandar Mandhro, Heer Soho, Humera Alwani, Siddique Memon, Shazia Marri, Muzaffar Shajra, Shamim Ara Panhwar, Bachal Shah, Nusrat Saher Abbasi, Dr Nasrullah Baloch, Ghulam Qadir Chandio and Rasheeda Panhwar. Soomro said the government land covering watercourses, which was leased out to the encroachers during the previous dictatorial regime, had claimed many precious lives in the 2011 flood and was still posing the same danger to many more. Dr Mandhro, seconded by Alwani, warned that the government itself had, over the years, built schools, hospitals, and even goths and cities on the encroached land, which might undermine the government’s efforts to implement the laws. While Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F)’s Nusrat Saher Abbasi called for indiscriminate action against the “big names” reported during the 2011 flood to have breached canals to save their farm lands, Shazia Marri warned that the new piece of legislation must rest with the bureaucracy to be implemented in letter and spirit. The bill was unanimously taken up clause-by-clause by the House.
ROW OVER CHINOY TRIBUTE: The House, which was called to order by Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza at 11:20 am, also witnessed a brief disorder when lawmakers from different political parties got in an apparent argument over whose resolution should be read out and adopted to pay homage to the Oscar-winning Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. At least five to six resolutions were tabled by lawmakers from the PPP, PML-F and Muttahida Qaumi Movement, including Tauqeer Fatima Bhutto, Sassui Palijo, Heer Soho, Bilquis Mukhtar, Shazia Marri and Marvi Rashidi. “It’s not about a short or long resolution. We need to take up the one which is comprehensive,” Marri snubbed when Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza tended to read out the shortest of the resolutions on her table. This made the chair take up the longest one, but even this did not satisfy the information minister, who wished to read out her resolution herself. Marri was also quick in reminding Marvi Rashidi of the PML-F that the resolutions were not party-based when the latter said the PPP seemed to have decided to take the resolution of its legislators. Before the dispute could worsen, the chair called the members for developing consensus and moved on to other agenda items. Ultimately, the House adopted a long resolution expressing immense pride in the accomplishments of Chinoy whose short documentary ‘Saving Face’ not only created awareness about the heinous crimes like acid burning but also won Pakistan its first Oscar Award.
SINDHIS’ KILLING IN US: Before the chair could call it a day until 10:00 am on Thursday, PPP Member Provincial Assembly (MPA) Imran Leghari, on a point of order, protested the third consecutive killing of a person from Sindh in the United States. He said Sardar Sheikh was a member of a Sindhi family and he was murdered in broad daylight in Houston, Texas. This, Leghari said, was the second killing following another Sindhi, Abbasi, whose body has not been sent back home “under a conspiracy”. The lawmaker called upon the home minister to approach the Foreign Office for taking up the issue with Washington. Law Minister Ayaz Soomro said the additional secretaries present in the House had taken notice of the complaint and would take the required steps.
WAHEEDA SHAH SLAPPING: As soon as the House reassembled, Marvi Rashidi of the PML-F took the floor on a point of order and condemned the manhandling of a female polling officer at the hand of MPA-hopeful Waheeda Shah in the by-polls of Tando Muhammad Khan. “The female lawmakers of this House feel ashamed of what she did to the polling officer. She does not deserve to become a member of this august House,” Marvi said. The deputy speaker was approving, but said some underlying reasons were yet to be ascertained in the unfortunate incident.
535 CORRUPTION CASES IN 2008-09: During the Question Hour, Anti-Corruption Minister Abdul Haq Bhurt told the House that 535 cases of corruption were registered against government officials in various districts of the province during 2008-09. The chair also announced the Sindh governor’s assent to the Sindh Motion Pictures Bill-2011 and the Sindh Services Tribunals (Amendment) Bill-2011.