The Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice unanimously approved a constitutional amendment bill, seeking to extend jurisdiction of the Supreme Court (SC) and the High Court (HC) to tribal areas to protect the fundamental rights of its people.
The bill, moved by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Farahatullah Babar, seeks to delete clause 7 of Article 247 of the Constitution which bars the superior courts from enforcing the fundamental rights of the people of tribal areas.
The meeting presided over by Senator Kazim Khan was attended, besides its regular members and movers, by some senators from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and representatives of Fata Lawyers’ Forum who had specially requested to be heard.
According to sub-clause 7 neither the Supreme Court nor the High Court shall exercise any jurisdiction in relation to a tribal area. The ousting of this sub-clause enables the people of the tribal areas to knock at the doors of superior courts for the enforcement of their fundamental rights.
The statement of objects and reasons of the bill states that under Article 1 of the Constitution the Federally Administered Tribal Areas also constitute the territory of Pakistan and its people entitled to the same protection of fundamental rights as are guaranteed to the people of other parts of the country. Article 247(7) acts as a grave impediment in the way of the tribal people in securing their fundamental rights and thereby in their integration and mainstreaming and needs to be deleted.
The provincial Assembly of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) through a unanimous resolution passed in May 2012 also called for deleting clause (7) of Article 247 of the Constitution, it said.
Peshawar High Court (PHC) in its judgment in April last year also advised suitable measures to enable the people of Fata invoke jurisdiction of the PHC or the SC in case of infringement of their fundamental rights.
But federal government has challenged this decision in the SC where senior law officer belonging to K-P backed the PHC order that had recommended parliament to amend Article 247 (7) of the Constitution with regard to extending the jurisdiction of SC and HC in Fata.
Senator Babar reminded the Committee that last October the Senate had also passed a unanimous resolution to extend the jurisdiction of courts to tribal areas for the enforcement of their fundamental rights.
The Act called the Constitution (22nd Amendment), if passed by parliament, will come into force at once.
He said that the All Parties Political Committee on Fata Reforms has adopted an 11-point agenda, the foremost being a call to amend Article 247 so that the legislation with respect to Fata is made by parliament and not by the president.
“It is a litmus test for the government, the political parties and parliament to get it passed,” Babar told the media persons.
He hoped that the bill will not be opposed from behind the scenes by those who are averse to reforms in Fata on one pretext or the other.
The senator said national security will be enhanced, not undermined, by political reforms and empowering the people of Fata,
Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2015.