In a first, Punjab Assembly holds session in hotel to prevent virus spread

Members of the provincial assembly of Punjab prepare for the first-ever session of the House outside the historical assembly building at a local hotel in Lahore on June 5, 2020. (Photo courtesy: social media)
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Updated 06 June 2020

In a first, Punjab Assembly holds session in hotel to prevent virus spread

  • The assembly speaker says social distancing was not possible in the small chamber of the building
  • The assembly building was constructed in 1937 for 140 members

LAHORE: For the first time in history, the provincial assembly of Pakistan’s most densely populated province of Punjab held a session out of its historic building on Friday, choosing a local hotel for the purpose to ensure social distancing among its members amid growing coronavirus infections.
The assembly building was constructed in 1937 and has a small chamber to accommodate all lawmakers. Its foundation stone was laid in 1935 and it was inaugurated in November 1937 by Sardar Jogendra Singh who served as the agriculture minister back in the day.
The building was originally constructed to cater to the needs of 140 members of the united province of Punjab. After the division of the region into two separate countries in August 1947, the structure was continued to be used for the sessions of the Punjab provincial assembly. Later, it also catered to the needs to the West Pakistan assembly.
After 2002, the number of Punjab Assembly members was raised to 371. The construction of a new assembly building with the capacity of 500 legislators was initiated in 2005 by the former chief minister of the province, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, but the idea has not materialized until now, even though the construction project was scheduled to be implemented in two years.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has gripped the whole world and the situation requires social distancing to save people from the disease,” Elahi, who is now the assembly’s speaker, said in his opening remarks at the beginning of the session. “It was not possible to maintain that distance in the assembly building due to insufficient space. We were, therefore, forced to change the venue of the meeting to this place.”
The session began Friday afternoon and was attended by a large number of politicians on both sides of the political divide. Some members criticized Federal Minister for Science and Technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain during the debate since he undermined the idea of a physical session while advocating a virtual meeting.
“Holding the assembly session is a constitutional requirement and we can only deplore the thoughts of those who insist on calling virtual meetings,” leader of the opposition in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz said in his comments.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) legislators raised the issue of farmers during the session, accusing the government of “snatching wheat” from the growers against their will.
“The government is harassing the farmers, snatching their wheat on cheaper rates than they are likely to get in open market. Locust swarm has already ruined the produce. Now the government is adding to the miseries of farmers,” PPP leader Hasan Murtaza said.
Before the session began, leaders of various political factions in the House held a meeting at the speaker’s chamber and reviewed the COVID-19 situation.
Special precautionary measures were also taken to prevent the spread of the virus as a disinfection gate was installed at the entry point and assembly members were requested to wear masks and gloves.


At least 30 injured in grenade attack in Pakistan at Kashmir rally

Updated 05 August 2020

At least 30 injured in grenade attack in Pakistan at Kashmir rally

  • The attack was claimed by Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army, a separatist outfit that has become active in the past months
  • Organized by Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious right party, the rally was called off after the attack

KARACHI: At least 30 people were injured in a grenade attack on a rally in Karachi on Wednesday, as Pakistan marked the first anniversary of India’s revocation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomy.
The wounded were rushed to different hospitals, where one was in a critical condition, an official from the provincial health department said.
“A grenade was lobbed in the rally, causing several casualties,” Karachi police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon told Reuters.
The attack was claimed by Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army, a separatist outfit that has become active in the past months.
In June, four people were killed including two soldiers in three consecutive explosions claimed by the SRA.
The group wants Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, to break from the Pakistani federation. It has also announced its alliance with the Balochistan Liberation Army, a militant group fighting for greater autonomy for the Balochistan region in southwestern Pakistan.
The attack took place as similar rallies were held across the country. The Karachi rally, organized by Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious right party, was called off after the attack.
Last August, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripped Jammu and Kashmir — India’s only Muslim-majority state — of its special rights and split it into two federally administered territories.
The government said the change was necessary to develop the revolt-torn region and integrate it with the rest of India, but it infuriated many Kashmiris as well as neighboring Pakistan.
Kashmir is claimed in full by India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it.
Indian authorities deployed troops and curbed public movement on Wednesday to stop potential protests in Kashmir.