Basic Principle Committee

Basic Principle Committee parliamentary committee appointed by the first constituent assembly of pakistan set up under the provisions of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 for making recommendations for framing the Constitution of Pakistan. With this end in view, the Constituent Assembly passed a resolution called Objective Resolution in March 1949 defining the aims and objects of the new Constitution.

After passing the Objective Resolution the Constituent Assembly appointed a committee of all the parties on 12 March 1949 to frame an outline in accordance with the Objective Resolution on the fundamentals of the future constitution of Pakistan. This committee consisting of 24 members was known as the Basic Principle Committee (BPC). It was also authorised to co-opt a maximum of 10 members from persons other than the members of the Constituent Assembly. The Prime Minister of Pakistan was appointed the convenor of the BPC. The Basic Principle Committee established 4 sub-committees: (i) sub-committee to make lists of the fundamental rights of the citizen, (ii) sub-committee to determine the principles of franchise, (iii) judicial sub-committee, and (iv) sub-committee to prepare the outline of the federal and provincial Constitution and of distribution of powers.

The BPC set up a special committee known as Talimaat-i-Islamia consisting of scholars well versed in Islamic jurisprudence to advise on matters relating to Objective Resolution. The BPC empowered all of the sub-committees to co-opt a maximum of three technical experts to give advice, if necessary. The Basic Principle Committee submitted an Interim Report on 7 September 1950. The Interim Report envisaged a parliamentary system with a bicameral legislature, consisting of the House of the Units and the House of the People. In the former, all the units of Pakistan were to have equal representation, while the House of the People was to be elected on the basis of population. The Committee did not mention the number of seats in the House of the People. The Interim Report proposed for the establishment of a strong centre. The President was given the power of proclaiming an emergency and suspending the constitution. Urdu was recommended as the only state language.

The Interim Report created much suspicion and opposition in East Bengal. East Bengal opposed the draft vehemently on the ground that it would lead to domination by West Pakistanis. Protesting the Interim Report and mobilising public opinion in favour of establishing provincial autonomy, a group of lawyers, journalists and political workers formed a Committee of Action of Democratic Federation in October 1950 in Dhaka. The Democratic Federation organised a provincial convention in Dhaka on 4-5 November 1950. The convention, presided over by Ataur Rahman Khan of Awami Muslim League, proposed an alternative constitution which recommended a republican form of government with full autonomy to the provinces. Only foreign affairs, currency and defence were to be placed under the jurisdiction of the central government. The convention proposed for a unicameral legislature, the members of which would be elected on the basis of population. The convention demanded that both Bangla and Urdu would be the state languages of Pakistan.

These counter constitutional proposals made by the Democratic Federation in the convention received spontaneous support from the people. A strike was observed on 12 November 1950 demanding the approval of the above constitutional proposals. In view of the criticism from East Bengal, the final consideration of the Report was postponed and suggestions were invited from the public on the Interim Report. The Constituent Assembly then appointed a sub-committee headed by Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar to examine the suggestions and criticisms on the Interim Report. The sub-committee made requisite investigations on the suggestions received, and submitted its report to the Basic Principle Committee in July 1952. On the basis of this report the BPC prepared its Second Draft Report for submission to the Constituent Assembly.

The Second Draft Report of the BPC was presented before the Constituent Assembly on 22 December 1952. The Report had the following features: (i) the parliament would consist of two Houses; the House of Units was to consist of 120 members, 60 of whom were to be elected from East Bengal. The seats for West Pakistan were allocated thus: Punjab 27, Sind 8, NWFP 6, Tribal Areas 5, Bahwalpur 4, Baluchistan and Baluch states 4, Khairpur 2 and Capital Karachi 4. The House of People was to consist of 400 members to be distributed as follows: East Bengal 200 members to be elected directly, and 200 members were to be directly elected from West Pakistan. (ii) The report proposed that to elect the head of the state, and in case of a conflict between the two Houses, a simple majority in a joint sitting of the both Houses would decide the issue. The Second Draft Report of BPC thus highlighted the principle of parity between the two wings of Pakistan.

The Second Draft Report of BPC met the same adverse reception like the Interim Report. This time the Punjabis opposed the proposals on the ground that it would establish Bangali domination. The opposition from the Punjab to the Second Draft Report forced the Constituent Assembly once more to postpone its deliberation for an indefinite period. Before the Constituent Assembly could accept the Second Draft Report, the cabinet of Khwaja Nazimuddin was dismissed (16 April 1953), and Mohammad Ali Chaudhury of Bogra was appointed the prime minister. As the distribution of seats among the various provinces in the central legislature made by BPC was unacceptable to East Bengal and the Punjab, the new Prime Minister emphasized modifying the arrangements of distribution of seats. He was successful in bringing a compromise between the two wings of Pakistan by putting before them a new proposal. According to this formula, the central legislature would be bicameral with equal powers for both Houses. The Upper House was to consist of 50 seats, of which 10 would be for East Bengal and 40 for West Pakistan. The Lower House was to have 300 seats of which 165 would be for East Bengal.

The differences between the two Houses were to be settled through a joint sitting, and the necessary majority in a joint session would have to include thirty percent of the members of each wing. Thus under this formula, although East Bengal had only ten seats in the Upper House, parity was maintained in both Houses taken collectively. Provision was made that in case the two Houses failed to come to an agreement they would be dissolved by the head of the state.

In the light of Muhammad Ali's formula, the amended report of the BPC was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 21 September 1954. This final report was a 80-page long document. It had 17 parts, the main subjects being the executive, the legislature, amendment of the constitution, the election process, the judiciary, relations between the centre and the units, the language of the republic, etc. The final report of the BPC was then sent to a drafting committee of constitutional experts to make the draft of the Constitution ready for discussion in the Constituent Assembly to be held on 27 October 1954. But on 24 October 1954, and just before the completion of its work, the Constituent Assembly was dissolved by the Governor General on the ground that 'the constitutional machinery has broken down' and the Constituent Assembly 'has lost the confidence of the people'. Thus with the dissolution of the First Constituent Assembly, the Basic Principle Committee was automatically abolished. However, the deliberations of the BPC were of considerable value to the next Constituent Assembly which enacted the Constitution of Pakistan of 1956. [Md Mahbubar Rahman]