Pak National Assembly approves annual budget with expansion in SC

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Islamabad, Jun 23 (UNI) Pakistan National Assembly has passed the coalition government's first budget with a Finance Bill that also provided for a controversial expansion of the Supreme Court so it could include judges deposed or handpicked by President Pervez Musharraf.

The adoption of the 152-page Finance Bill with several amendments after a nine-day debate marked the formal passage of the Rs 2.01 trillion budget for the fiscal 2008-09, which minister in charge for finance Naveed Qamar had unveiled on June 11.

The minister said 51 of the 76 non-mandatory proposals formulated by the upper house in its own debate past week had been accepted as the House took up the Finance Bill after adopting demands for grant for the government's ministries and divisions.

Although the vote on other clauses of the Finance Bill and amendments proceeded quickly as a mere formality, the clause for increasing the number of Supreme Court judges from 16 to 29 was marked by a brief row. The opposition Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) abstained in protest against the use of a money bill to amend an act of parliament while one member from a ruling coalition party called the move a ''mockery'' of the Constitution.

No legal defence against the criticism for using a finance bill, instead of a normal act of parliament, for the job was offered by the minister or the PPP led coalition except that it was a joint move of the allies, including the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), which had resigned from nine ministries in the cabinet last month over the issue of restoration of the deposed judges.

Opposition to the bill's controversial clause was also voiced during the Senate debate on the budget, with the critics, including PPP's Raza Rabbani, who represents Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as leader of the House there.

The government has begun paying salaries to the deposed judges with arrears from November 3 but has not come out with a declaration whether the new amendment would in effect mean their restoration after missing two deadlines based on a ''Murree Declaration'' and the departure of the PML-N ministers from the cabinet over the restoration issue.

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