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Is the new Punjab Assembly building another political encroachment?

Dr. Farid A Malik thinks that instead of inaugurating a new building for the Punjab Assembly, PM Khan needs to conduct a performance audit of the house as it has failed to legislate for the people of Punjab.

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Despite a very poor record of people-friendly legislation, a new Punjab Assembly building is being inaugurated. ‘My Rori Ground’ (an uneven open space full of small stones) located at the back of the existing assembly building has been encroached upon by our own elected representatives.

Like most Lahoris, I have fond memories of playing cricket matches there. If I am not mistaken, Khawaja Muhammad Rafique, father of Saad Rafique was also gunned down in the vicinity in the seventies.

The Punjab Legislative Assembly was established by the British as a seat of ‘Toady Politics’ and it has lived up to its reputation. The largest province of the country has been the heartland of ‘Toadism’. Both Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) and Imran Khan (IK) launched their political movements for change right here to bury ‘Toadism’.

Read more: Pakistan: The land ruled by ‘Toadies’

Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, the current Speaker, had started construction of the new building in June 2006 when he was the Chief Minister (Punjab). He encroached upon several important open spaces reserved for the public. The list is long, but some important ones are worth mentioning.

The ‘Doongi Ground’ on MM Alam road was taken over to build a cineplex. Outside 7 Club Road in GOR, there was a triangular park together with a mosque and a road. This was once the residence of the CM while his office was located in the civil secretariat on Lower Mall. Hanif Ramay lived here and so did Nawab Sadiq Hussain Qureshi.

As CM, Ramay sahib served the province by building Arts Councils in every district; as a tribute to his services, his funeral prayers were offered in the premises of the building in Lahore. Nawab Sahib was more interested in building roads and bridges, he even kept pigeons in the open space outside.

Read more: Journey from corruption to competence – Farid A Malik

Chaudhry Sahib continued to live on the FCC Road which was renamed after the founder of their dynasty but he decided to encroach on the open space outside, between 7 & 9 Club Road to build a huge monstrosity similar to the PM Secretariat on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad.

A bigger Assembly Hall?

From the first assembly session in November 1938 till the last on June 04, 2021, a lot of ‘Toady Movement’ has taken place in this relic of our colonial past called the Assembly Hall. As activists, we have seen very little good come out of this house, hardly any meaningful public welfare litigation has taken place here.

Prime Minister Imran Khan will inaugurate the new building on June 10, 2021. Once functional, it will be one of the largest assembly chambers in the world with a seating capacity of 422 members together with 800 visitors to watch the ‘Toady Circus’.

Read more: How many lawmakers were in the National Assembly during vote of confidence?

The total cost of the project is close to Rs 5 billion of hard-earned public funds. Initially, the old building was designed to accommodate 175 members of the united province. The current strength of our part has reached 371, so the members are seated in the visitors’ gallery for the assembly to function.

Considering the lack of performance of this body, I consider this to be a total waste of much-needed resources. The strength of the house is linked with the population. The easiest way out is to stretch and accommodate while ignoring the fundamental cause. The population growth rate was never discussed on the floor, while the explosion has affected every walk of life, the members created space for themselves to enjoy perks.

Read more: The implications of Pakistan’s unbridled population growth

A time when the Assembly did its job

Most of my experiences in pushing for public welfare legislation have been pathetic mainly due to the bureaucracy that controls the agenda of the house. One good experience of my student days was however unforgettable.

The year was 1974, Malik Ghulam Nabi, the father-in-law of Dr. Yasmin Rashid was the education minister. It was late May and the weather was muggy—summer vacations were scheduled for July, August, and September in those days. The class decided to put in a request for early vacations (June, July, August).

Instead of a sympathetic hearing, our request was trashed. In retaliation, we decided to march to the Assembly building. Hearing our chants, Malik Sahab came out to understand the issue, he then invited a small group to come to his chamber for a detailed discussion on the way forward. It was agreed that the matter would be put up to the Chancellor for a resolution.

Read more: Pakistan’s bureaucracy needs overhaul

The next day, a meeting was arranged at the Governor’s House, the Vice-Chancellor (VC) sat on one side of the table, and Khar Sahib sat on the other side, presiding. After hearing both sides the Chancellor agreed with the students and the schedule of summer vacations was changed; till today it is prevalent.

Perhaps it was that short democratic sojourn (1971 to 1977) where the assembly performed its function; since then it has been downhill. Even private member bills are blocked. I have personally interacted with several members with prepared bills ready to be read but were stalled.

I urge the PM to stall the move of the new building of the Punjab Assembly as it is not well deserved. Let there be a performance audit of the house that has failed to legislate for the people of the province. The speaker should publish a list of people-friendly legislation passed by this house together with a tally of open spaces encroached by the ‘Toadies’.

Read more: Institutional Reforms: Two things PM Khan needs to do right now

Dr. Farid A. Malik is Ex-Chairman from, Pakistan Science Foundation. The article has been republished here with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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