Sindh cabinet approves bill to restore student unions

Hundreds of people participated in the Student Solidarity March in Lahore on November 29, 2019, calling for equal education opportunities for all and demanding an end to a decades-long ban on student unions in education institutions. (AN Photo)
Updated 10 December 2019

Sindh cabinet approves bill to restore student unions

  • Document will now be tabled in the provincial assembly for approval
  • Student representatives call it a huge victory, urge earliest implementation

KARACHI: The government in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh lifted a 35-year-old ban on student unions on Monday by approving a bill for the restoration of the same which representatives termed as a huge victory.

Murtaza Wahab, Sindh government’s spokesperson, said that the bill will be presented before the provincial assembly during the ongoing session.

“Sindh cabinet has approved the draft bill for restoration and regulation of student unions in the province. Bill will be laid before the Sindh Assembly in the ongoing session,” Wahab tweeted on Monday.

“The cabinet has made some changes to the draft. When it will go to the assembly there will be more changes. The standing committee will also consult different stakeholders before giving it a final shape,” Information Minister Saeed Ghani told Arab News, adding that the bill has been drafted keeping in mind the guidelines provided by the Supreme Court’s in 1993.

“The union can be a seven to 11 member body. Both government and private educational institutions will be bound to hold elections of the unions,” Ghani said.

The student unions were banned by military dictator Gen Zia-ul-Haq on February 9, 1984 and briefly revived by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1989 but blocked once again by the Supreme Court in 1993 before any elections could be held.

In 2008, former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had given his approval for the elections but none could be held throughout his tenure.

Student representatives welcomed the development on Monday.

Ammar Rashid, who was at the forefront of the Students Solidarity March, said due credit goes to the marchers.

“This is a huge victory for Pakistan and its people,” Rashid told Arab News.

Ashir Saleem, leader of Islami Jamiat Talaba, said that his organization welcomed the development.

“The Sindh government has taken a highly-needed step, which should have been taken since long,” Saleem told Arab News, adding that his organization had been protesting every year on February 9 since the ban was initiated in 1984.

A former union president, however, added a caveat.

“I doubt the intentions of the government. When you take a really good step but without preparations, you want to fail it,” Professor Shakeel Farooqi, president of the last student union in Karachi University in 1984, told Arab News.

“I have serious reservations.”

Farooqi said when universities were established in Pakistan it was ensured that these institutions must be based on the principle of democracy.

“There were not only student unions, student councils and departmental student societies but the dean of faculty would also be elected,” Farooqi, who has also served as President of the Karachi University Teachers’ Society (KUTS), said, adding that thee first dent in the university’s democratic culture was made by former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who put an end to the elections of the Dean’s office and the final blow came from General Zia-ul-Haq banned the unions in 1984.

“The political parties, whether the left’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or the right’s Jamaat-e-Islami, didn’t support us although the students struggled for their right irrespective of their backgrounds. Both the leftists and rightists jointly struggled,” Farooqi said, adding that the ban has affected nine generations in the past 35 years.

“There is a dearth of leadership today and the intolerant behavior we see in parliament and on TV talk shows is the reflection of the loss due to ban on student unions,” Farooqi said, adding that “unions create leadership.”

Rashid, for his part, urged the Sindh government to take into account the students’ feedback before passing the bill into law.

“Sindh government has taken the lead and I am hopeful that others will follow. If other provinces don’t restore unions, the students would go to the courts for taking their due right,” he said.

At least 105 killed, 96 injured by extreme weather in Pakistan

Updated 17 January 2020

At least 105 killed, 96 injured by extreme weather in Pakistan

  • The majority of casualties have been reported in Azad Kashmir
  • In Balochistan, all blocked roads are already open for traffic

ISLAMABAD: At least 105 people have been killed and 96 injured by avalanches, landslides and other extreme weather-related incidents, mainly in Azad Kashmir, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) confirmed on Friday.
The number of destroyed houses has risen to nearly 1,300 as rescue efforts continue and more reports are arriving.

Rescue workers clear a snow-covered road to make way for an ambulance to reach the areas affected by heavy snowfall and avalanches, in Neelum Valley near line of control (LoC) in Pakistan on Jan. 14, 2020. (REUTERS)

The majority of casualties have been reported in Azad Kashmir, where heavy rains and snowfall triggered avalanches, especially in the Neelum Valley area.
The avalanches and other rain-related incidents have killed 78 people, NDMA spokesman Saqib Mumtaz, told Arab News on Thursday evening. Fifty-six people were injured in the region.
“Food and non-food relief items including tents, blankets, first aid kits, tarpaulins, kitchen accessories, plastic mats and mattresses were distributed in the affected areas of district Neelum Valley,” the NDMA said in an earlier statement.

A man removes snow from outside his house after heavy snowfall, in Keran, a small town in Neelum Valley, in Azad Kashmir on Jan. 14, 2020. (AP)

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday visited Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Azad Kashmir, to review the ground situation and see the injured at a military hospital in Muzaffarabad.
In Balochistan, local government spokesman Liaquat Shahwani said that 20 people were killed in various extreme weather-related incidents in the province. “The situation is under control and all stranded people have been rescued,” he said. According to NDMA, another 23 people were wounded.

Rescue and relief efforts are underway on Jan. 15. (Photo courtesy: ISPR)

Five people died and 13 were injured in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while two people died and four were injured in Gilgit-Baltistan, according to the NDMA’s data from Friday.
Government authorities are working to clear the roads in the affected areas. In Balochistan, all are already open for traffic.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) has warned that heavy rains and snow in northwestern parts of Balochistan may result in flash floods. The province has recorded the heaviest snowfall in two decades, according to the PMD.

Local residents carry water pots above their heads as they walk back to their homes after heavy snowfall in Khanozai area some 75 kms in northeast of the provincial capital Quetta on Jan. 14, 2020. (AFP)

A westerly wave has also engulfed the upper parts of the country, the PMD said in a statement on Tuesday, forecasting cold and dry weather in most parts of Pakistan and extremely frigid climate in north Balochistan.
Floods in Balochistan have reportedly affected the freight train service between Pakistan and Iran.