MIRPUR (AJK) - Mirpur University of Science & Technology (MUST) Vice Chancellor Dr Habibur Rehman said that the 13th Amendment to Act 1974, the interim constitution of Azad Jammu Kashmir, has brought significant changes in the constitutional frame work.

He expressed these views in his welcome address in the seminar titled "Constitutional Reforms-2018" held at the MUST campus in expatriates' city of Mirpur under the auspices of the Department of Law.

AJK President Sardar Masood Khan, who is also Chancellor of the University, inaugurated the Seminar as chief guest and it concluded with AJK Minister Ch Saeed in the chair.

In his comprehensive paper depicting the significance of the much-needed constitutional amendment, the vice chancellor said the role of Azad Jammu Kashmir Council as legislative and executive organ has been transformed into an advisory body as a result of the 13th amendment. He added the spirit of the 18th Amendment in Constitution of Pakistan for devolution and empowerment of provinces has been followed in case of the amendment. Various subjects earlier dealt by the council have now been devolved to AJK Legislative Assembly and the Government.

He said, "Since the independence of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir many constitutional arrangements remained enforced till 1974. The AJK Interim Constitution was promulgated in 1974. Since then, the people of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan confronted with many challenges while several misfortunes; requirements and priorities of people changed significantly." He noted, "Things which were thought important are no more important and those which were considered unimportant or less important become imperative. The constitution of Pakistan passed in 1972 witnessed several amendments through the period of time. The AJK Interim Constitution 1974 was not amended till 2018."

"Constitutional reforms have been subject of discussion for many years. Several seminars and workshops were held to this effect. A seminar on "Kashmir at Present: Quest for Empowerment and Progress" was held in the President House, Muzaffarabad on 10th February, 2018. The need for constitutional reforms was felt. The 13th Amendment was passed on the1st of June, 2018 and implemented to improve the governance system in the AJK," he added.

The vice chancellor said that he was happy that his university had taken the initiative on the constitutional development. "I think this is the first ever academic discourse on the subject. Subject of Income tax as well as other taxation powers have also been transferred. The federal share of taxes has already been enhanced from 2.27% to 3.60% from federal divisible pool. The amendment is likely to empower the AJK both financially and administrative," he said.

Welcoming the participants of the seminar, the VC particularly extended warm welcome to the president and thanked him for gracing the inauguration ceremony of the seminar as chief guest.

Habibur Rehman said, "There are multiple schools of thought some say that the constitutional reforms were not required at all; some are of the view that the reforms need further reforms and improvements. Others are of the opinion that the reforms weaken the state and its institutions further. Under the circumstances, the university considered organising the seminar on the subject for making the people aware about the reforms package."

He added, "We understand that the constitutional amendment was not at all an easy adventure and proved a difficult enterprise. Considering the amendments as indispensable, the government showed firm will to get that done and it is done. The Azad Government deserves appreciation for bringing long awaited reforms in the interim constitution. Hope the reforms will prove blessing for the people of the AJK and bring relief to them as it is done with good faith and intension."

"Change," he observed, "is the only constant in this world. We understand that the constitution may be improved further and will be required to be improved with the passage of time. Best thing would be to suggest/ propose improvements rather than criticising the reforms. I hope the government will further develop the institutions to implement the reforms agenda."

His lecture on overall impact of the constitutional reforms on the AJK showed that he is well aware of the constitutional developments in the AJK.

The vice chancellor expressed the hope that the seminar would help enhance the understanding of the people about the reforms and also enable the policy makers to review the amendments, if necessary.

He underlined that the university respects the point of views of all the schools of thought on the subject and acknowledges the contribution of all the people concerned to the reforms. He pointed out that the prominent among the contributors include Justice (r) Sheikh Basharat, Tariq Masud, former Additional Chief Secretary of the AJK and Former Vice Chancellor of the UAJK, Justice (r) Manzoor-ul-Hassan Gillani, Raja Hanif Khan, Farhat Ali Mir and Prime Minister Raja Muhammad Farooq Haider Khan.

"While we agree that reforms may be improved further, we should try to take the reforms as a step forward and contribute in implementing the reforms. As we understand, the constitutional amendment was a difficult enterprise as status quo is not easy to alter. Change is always good and we hope that the amendment will prove blessing for the people of the AJK and transmit positive signal across the Line of Control and to our brethren in the IOK fighting against the Indian occupation. The Azad Government deserves appreciation for bringing long awaited reforms in the interim constitution," he noted.

"Hope the reforms will prove blessing for the people of the AJK and bring relief to them as it is done with good faith and intension," the vice chancellor concluded.