ISLAMABAD: The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) on Tuesday moved a bill in the National Assembly to bring about land reforms in the country by limiting family agricultural landholding to 36 acres of irrigated land or 54 acres of un-irrigated land.
Tuesday was the private members day, which saw the quorum breaking twice. ‘The Redistributive Land Reforms Bill, 2017’ was moved by MQM’s SA Iqbal Quadri amid strong resistance from members in both treasury and opposition benches.
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Two other private members bills – the Minimum Wages (Amendment) Bill 2017 and the Right to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Bill 2017 – were also introduced in the House. The chair referred all these bills to the committees concerned.
The land reforms bill provides for resumption of large estate holdings on payment of compensation to the owners and the grant of the resumed land to landless cultivators, tenants and those owning less than ‘economic holding’ – 36 acres of irrigated land or 54 acres of un-irrigated land.
The main objective of the bill is to reduce wide income disparity between rich landowners and poor tillers and to maximise output by intensive cultivation and optimal use of water through cooperative farming. The corporate farming on state land on a public-private partnership basis will not be barred so long as the state remains the absolute owner of the land, according to the bill.
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Taking part in the discussion, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmakers Nawab Yousaf Talpur and Shazia Marri and some others opposed the bill, while Asad Umar of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and other MQM members, including Dr Farooq Sattar, argued in favour.
Thrice in past, Dr Farooq Sattar said, half-hearted attempts were made to bring land reforms in the country but those were not implemented in true spirit. Even the electoral reforms would not serve any purpose if agricultural reforms were not made, he added.
Opposing the bill, Dr Ghulam Mustafa Syed expressed the hope that it would be rejected by both the treasury and the opposition benches. If that was a political campaign, he said, the bill would not even clear the standing committee concerned.
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Mehmood Khan Achakzai of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) appeared to be supporting the bill. In his speech, he read a couplet of Allama Iqbal, meaning, ‘burn every ear of wheat if the field does not provide bread to the peasant’.
Many more members wanted to speak on the bill and at one point there was a scene of ruckus. However, a PTI lawmaker pointed out the lack of quorum and the proceeding were adjourned till Wednesday (today).
The quorum was pointed out twice during the session on Tuesday and on both occasions, it was found lacking. When pointed out for the first time, the proceedings had to be suspended for some time. But for the second time, the sitting was adjourned.
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Khursheed Shah, of the PPP, criticised the lack of quorum. “We want to speak but there is no one here. We come here for the session. It is not like we have not got other things to do. We visit our constituencies and attend the session as well,” he said.
In response, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq summoned ministers for information, capital administration and development division and parliamentary affairs, telling them he wanted to run the House on his terms and not on those of the ministers.
“If the ministers do not come then the pending bills will be approved,” he warned.
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Earlier, the lawmakers condemned the alleged lynching of a Christian schoolboy, Sheron Masih, last month. Masih, a class IX student of the Government MC Model High School, Burewala, died when his class fellow allegedly thrashed him on the school premises.
Speaking on the incident, Khaliq George said Masih lost his life because he drank water in the same glass as the other boys did. The student was killed in front of the teachers, he said.
“Our school curricula need to be revised to reflect interfaith harmony,” George said.
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He called for taking steps to ensure that no-one else was killed in the educational institutions. He demanded the strictest punishment for the culprit. He also demanded that the school, where Masih was killed, should be named after him, besides financial assistance for the victim’s family.
Expressing grief on Masih’s death, Shazia Marri recalled Mashal Khan, who also lost his life as a result of intolerance in an educational institution.
“This mindset [intolerance] is prevailing fast in our institutions and society, while the state has shut its eyes,” she said. “No liberal feels safe in Pakistan. The question is why the National Action Plan is not being implemented.”
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Joining the discussion, Asad Umar said: “It is our responsibility to take care of this nation’s minorities.”
Achakzai asked the House to pass a resolution, condemning Masih’s killing.
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