By: Hussain Kashif
LAHORE: The Punjab government tabled and started debate on the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Bill 2013 in the provincial assembly on Wednesday to make compulsory for government departments to provide the demanded information within the next 14 working days to the citizens.
Under the proposed laws, a special commission would be formed by the name of the Punjab Information Commission (PIC) that would consist of three information commissioners equivalent to the public officer of grade 21.
The commission will be responsible for providing information to citizens directly when they submit any request in this regard.
One of the members of the commission will be equivalent to the judge of the high court and the second equivalent to grade 21 officer, while the third one will belong to the civil society, having more than 15 years of experience in his field with skills in mass communication.
The complainants could submit a request of information about any government department to the commission directly through its online service or a written application, and the commission will provide such information within 14 working days to the applicant.
The commission will gather the demanded information from the relevant department and the authorities of that department will be bound to provide accurate information regarding the request to the commission.
However, information related to national defence and security, public order and international relations of Pakistan will not be provided to the citizens.
After the bill was tabled, the opposition benches made hue and cry and strongly opposed it, and also pointed out the quorum three time. By the reason of lack of quorum, the chair pended debate on the bill until today (Thursday).
There are high chances that the bill will be passed today despite reservations of the opposition.
Deputy speaker Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani chaired the session on Wednesday that started one hour and 43 minutes late.
During the question hour, Minister for Forests, Fisheries and Wildlife Malik M Asif was given a warning by the chair after he gave unsatisfactory and contradictory answers to a question several times.
The speaker directed him to probe the issue and inform the House about the real situation after collecting the required information.
However, while answering to a question regarding permission to foreigners for hunting in Punjab, the minister said that foreigners were being allowed by the Foreign Office for their “hunting adventures” in Pakistan.
He said the office used to issue special permission to them, whereas the local people were not allowed to take part in such activities.
The minister said that such special permissions were issued to figures of brother Islamic countries alone.
“They were being issued visas for specific days and to hunt a hundred brides only,” he mentioned.
Meanwhile, treasury and opposition members disregarded his statement and said that foreigners used to stay for more than 20 days and they hunted countless birds.
Asif also informed the House that the proportion of forests’ land in the province did not meet international standards, as the area should at least have a forest cover of five per cent of its total geographical area.
Out of the total 50.956 million acre land, the province had forest on only 1.62 million acres (3.1 per cent).
He mentioned that in order to meet the international standards of having forests on at least five per cent of the land, the province would need a hefty amount of Rs 1 billion along with 600 cusecs of water, which according to him was an impossible task under the prevailing circumstances.
Pertaining to a question about transfer of 55 acres in Lodhran to a politician, the minister stated that the land was not delivered to a person but an organisation in 1981.
The minister also pledged that after enacting the Forest Act, 2010, the activities of the timber mafia had been reduced by 42 per cent.
Though he admitted that the illegal activity of timber theft was taking place with the connivance of some officials of the department.
He also informed the House that the government had banned felling of trees in Murree.
Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, in his speech, claimed that the government was complying with the Supreme Court’s observations.
He appreciated that PML-N’s defence minister presented himself before the apex court when summoned.
Sanaullah termed Imran Khan as an unintelligent person for staging a sit-in protest in order to stop NATO supplies.
“By doing this, the PTI cannot stop drone strikes,” he underscored. PTI member Sadiq Khan walked out of the House after not being allowed to speaker on a point of order. He tried several times to speak on a point of order but the speaker did not allow him. Upon this, opposition leader Mehmoodur Rasheed also protested inside the House and asked the speaker to be unbiased towards the opposition members.
Treasury member Mian Aslam brought Sadiq Khan in the House again on the directives of the speaker.