Punjab bids adieu to historic assembly building

Ruling party blames PML-N administration for delaying construction of new legislature


KHALID RASHEED July 14, 2021
PHOTO: REUTERS/File

LAHORE:

The Punjab Assembly is bidding adieu to its home for the past seven decades. Based on Roman architecture and the originating place of landmark bills, the old assembly building is set to be preserved as a national heritage site.

The assembly’s long evolutionary constitutional journey began in 1897 with the formation of the Advisory Council to the Deputy Governor of Punjab and it was transformed into a legislature in 1921. The foundation for the Punjab Assembly building was laid on November 17, 1935, by Sir Jogindra Singh who was the then Minister of Agriculture, to meet the need for a separate provincial legislature institution.

Over the past seven decades, the historic building has not only weathered political storms but it has also had the honour of having innumerable laws passed by its member. During the tenure of General Pervez Musharraf, when Chaudhry Pervez Elahi served as Chief Minister of Punjab, the Rescue 1122 Authority Bill was passed in this building. In recent times, the ruling party passed landmark legislation to safeguard women’s rights in inheritance in the very same house.

Replacing the famed building is a contemporary one whose foundations were laid in 2005 but its completion is finally drawing to a close 16 years later. As per sources, the blame for this extensive delay has been put on the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) government as under their leadership the project was suspended increasing the cost to the taxpayers from Rs 1.38 billion to Rs 5 billion. The icing on the cake is the construction company that initially got the project defaulted.

Despite the delays, the new state of the art legislation chamber’s interior will feature calligraphy, paintings, and furniture from the National College of Arts (NCA). The precious stone being installed on the exterior was imported from Jaipur, India. The wood used in construction was sourced from Myanmar and Africa and the shiny onyx stone being incorporated in the structure was imported from Afghanistan.

Speaker Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who laid the foundations of the building during his stint as Punjab’s Chief Minister, said: “I am happy that as the Speaker of this building, I have inaugurated the building myself by holding the first budget session and passing the budget.”

However, despite the inauguration of the new assembly hall with a crystal dome, work remains to be done on the new building which is reported to take another 3 to 5 months. Therefore, after the completion of the budget session in the new building, the next assembly sessions will be held in its prehistoric counterpart.

A jubilant provincial Law Minister Raja Basharat, talking to the Express Tribune, said “I am happy that when the foundations were laid, I was the law minister and today when the building is [nearly] completed, I am the law minister in this government.” He added that the new building would provide a better environment to the guests including members of assembly, staff, and media.

According to sources, while the Punjab Assembly house, the legislation hub for the province’s ministers, has found a new home, assembly staff’s offices will remain in the old building signaling that the curtains have not yet been drawn on this pre-partition era gem.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2021.

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