Punjab Assembly passes first Private Member Bill during its current tenure
LAHORE: In a historic and landmark development, the marriages of Sikh community on Wednesday got a legal status as the Punjab Assembly unanimously passed the much awaited ‘Punjab Anand Karaj Bill’ during its ongoing 34th session. The bill would enable Sikh couples to register their marriages at the Union Council (UC) level.
As per the details, the only Sikh Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) from Punjab Ramesh Singh Arora moved the bill that was passed unanimously as not a single lawmaker in the house both from the treasury and opposition benches opposed it. Arora received a huge applause soon after the passage of the bill and lawmakers from both the opposition and treasury benches congratulated him over his efforts for the said bill.
“It is the first of its kind legislation in the entire world and today the august house of the Punjab Assembly has made a history by taking a lead in this regard,” Arora said while also paying gratitude to Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan and Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs Khalil Tahir Sandhu as according to Arora it was impossible to draft the bill without the support of these ministers. He said the Punjab government had proved that it was a pro-minority government and took care of the minorities’ due rights as enshrined in the constitution.
Arora also said that he was receiving hundreds of phone calls from countries including United Kingdom, United States and Canada, and they all were expressing gratitude for passing the landmark bill that would also help them as they would easily get the registration certificates of their marriages from Pakistan and the document would be very beneficial for them
“So far, the bill help over 12,000 Sikhs living in Punjab, but soon it would also be passed by the National Assembly and its spectrum would be spread for around 25,000 Sikhs living countrywide,” he said while also criticising India, which he said, could not pass such a legislation despite the fact that it claimed to be the largest secular state in the world. “The marriages of Sikh couples in India get registered under the Hindu Marriage Act,” he added.
Rarity could be seen in the house on Wednesday as leader of opposition Mian Mehmoodur Rashid of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) himself congratulated Arora while also acknowledging his efforts for the Sikh community. Minority MPA from opposition benches Shunila Ruth also congratulated Arora and said that it could be even better if the government itself had moved the bill instead of making it a Private Member Bill that Arora moved in his personal capacity despite the fact that he sat on the treasury benches.
It is worth mentioning here that the ‘Punjab Anand Karaj Bill’ is the first Private Member Bill that the Punjab Assembly has passed during its current tenure.
SALIENT FEATURES OF THE BILL:
The salient features of the bill include the registration Sikh couples’ marriages, commonly known as Anand Karaj, at the UC level. Marriages that took place even before the passage of the bill would also get a legal status after getting registered at the UC level. As per the report of the Standing Committee on Human Rights and Minority Affairs of the Punjab Assembly, the main objective of the bill was to codify the law in order to regulate marriages and their dissolution as well among the Sikh community. The bill has defined Anand Karaj as a lawful union of a Sikh male and a Sikh female solemnised under the act and conducted in accordance with the practices of the Sikh religion. Minimum age of 18 years has also been set for the couples to get married.
According to a copy of the bill available with Pakistan Today, the bridegroom and the bride shall fill the Anand Karaj form and present it within thirty days of marriage to the Anand Karaj Registrar for registration of the marriage and a copy would also be sent to the chairman of the UC. The bill further states that the government should grant licenses to individuals professing Sikh religion to be called Anand Karaj Registrar, authorising them to grant Anand Karaj certificates.
The bill has elaborated the ways for the dissolution of marriage as well. Any party wishing to dissolve the marriage would have to submit a written notice to the UC chairman describing his or her consent. The chairman would then constitute an arbitration council within thirty days and the dissolution certificate would be issued by the chairman in case the council fails to make reconciliation between the couple even after the lapse of 90 days since the written notice was received by the UC chairman.
The ‘Punjab Anand Karaj Bill’ was first introduced in the house on October 24, 2017, during the assembly’s 32nd session. The Standing Committee on Human Rights and Minority Affairs considered the bill in its meetings held on Dec 13, 2017, Feb 20, 2018, and March 7, 2018, before presenting it in the house. The meetings were attended by Ramesh Singh Arora himself who also heads the said committee while treasury MPAs from minorities, including Kanji Ram, Zulfiqar Ghori and Shahzad Munshi and Shunila Ruth from opposition benches also participated in the meetings to give their input on the bill. Human Rights and Minority Affairs Department Secretary Asim Iqbal and Law and Parliamentary Affairs Department Deputy Director Mohsin Bukhari also attended the meetings.
It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan Today on Tuesday had published a news story stating that the bill would unanimously be passed on Wednesday.