MPA Sajid Bhatti presents bill on private members' day in assembly; bill does not extend to journalists
LAHORE: Punjab Assembly lawmakers on Monday approved the Punjab Privileges (Amendment) Bill, 2021, following a back and forth over the approval and passage of the bill, tabled in the Assembly last month.
The bill was granted unanimous approval today by the lawmakers after PML-Q Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) Sajid Bhatti presented it again due to it being a private members' day.
The bill, in its original form when it was passed on June 29, included punishments for journalists for any breach of privilege accorded to the House or any of its members.
The bill will no longer be applicable to journalists but it makes the bureaucracy accountable for any act that undermines the lawmakers' or the parliament's authority.
Following the lawmakers' approval, Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi addressed the assembly.
He said that "only two to three bureaucrats had raised objections over the amendment bill as well as creating a trouble over the matter of rescue".
“The bureaucrats in the National Assembly are quick to follow the orders of the Privileges Committee, but now with the passage of the bill, they will not dare to turn a deaf ear to the members,” said Elahi.
"We will no longer allow the bureaucracy's thuggery to continue," he added.
Elahi further said that only two years are left for the current regime to end so the bureaucracy "must deliver" now.
The speaker was lauded by the Opposition MPAs during his speech, who chanted "sher, sher (lion)" throughout.
Punjab Assembly lawmakers had passed a law, allowing the Assembly powers to arrest and prosecute journalists, bureaucrats, and lawmakers. The bill was tabled by PPP’s MPA Usman Mehmood as a private member’s bill.
Even though the bill was not on the agenda, and neither was it sent to the relevant committee to be examined, it was passed by the majority in the House, without much resistance from opposition parties.
Later, the Punjab Assembly speaker had notified amendments to the bill after protests by the journalist community.
Under the original bill, the Sergeant-at-Arms was given the power to arrest any person on the orders of the Speaker, to prevent them from acting in any manner in breach of privileges within the precincts of the Assembly.
The arrests were allowed without a warrant, at any place within the “precincts of the Assembly”, which was defined as the assembly’s courtyard, hall, lobbies, press galleries, rooms, etc.
The bill also allowed for the use of “reasonable force as may be necessary” when making the arrests.
As per the bill, the speaker “can in writing direct the arrest and detention in custody” of any member, meaning a journalist, bureaucrat, and/or any lawmaker.
It stated that only the Speaker can hear an appeal against the arrest of a member, which is a usurpation of a judicial function.
For those convicted, the law allowed an appeal within 30 days, but to only the speaker of the Assembly.
Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar last Thursday, refused to sign the bill, saying it is "contradictory" and "inconsistent" with the Constitution.
The governor, sending the bill back, made the observation that the inclusion of the words "excluding media persons" cannot be made in isolation. The schedule appended with the Act would also need to be amended "with reference to acts and omissions pertaining to publishing and reporting", and this cannot be done with a notification — such an amendment "must be taken up in the domain of legislation".
Sources informed Geo News Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief Minister's House had raised objections over the bill, following which, the governor refrained from signing it.