LAHORE, June 22: A large number of MPAs, mainly from the ruling PML-N, took part in the budget debate in the Punjab Assembly on Saturday, foiling opposition’s three attempts to have the session adjourned by pointing out short quorum.
The short quorum was pointed out in view of the thinning presence of the members of PML-N who dominate the house because of their number. But, every time this was done, the PML-N members rushed in from the lobby or the cafeteria to join the house, making the chair announce the quorum was in order.
It was first politely pointed out by PTI’s Dr Murad Rass, who along with his party colleagues soon left the house after Speaker Rana Iqbal found the quorum in order.
The quorum was pointed out for second and the third times by PML-Q’s Samina Khawar Hayat when she was the only opposition member left in the house. She was responded with “fake degree” taunts hurled by some PML-N MPAs on both the occasions. Finally, she too left the house ‘in protest’, allowing the treasury MPAs to continue the debate till late in the afternoon without any interruption.
Only three opposition members took part in the debate that was dominated by more than 40 PML-N members present in the house. Almost all the ruling party members praised the Sharif brothers and the Punjab budget, besides presenting their budgetary demands or proposals.
Initially, Finance Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman was absent. But he hurried to the house after his absence was pointed out by Leader of the Opposition Mehmoodur Rashid.
Opening the debate, PTI’s Dr Murad Rass criticised the laptop and Danish Schools projects of previous provincial government led by PML-N and said the allocations could have better been utilised for educating children from poor families. He deplored that despite power being the biggest issue, only Rs20 billion had been allocated for its production.
He also opposed an increase in police budget, saying the department actually needed reforms and accountability. They (police) must be asked about the utilisation of billions of rupees given to them in the past, he demanded.
He said costly roads were built in the constituency where the Sharif brothers themselves resided while its poor localities lacked basic amenities like drinking water. “Change your priorities otherwise this country will be destroyed,” he said.
PTI’s Zaheeuruddin Khan, terming allocations for the agriculture sector meager, opposed the agriculture income tax and demanded subsidies for the ‘hard pressed’ farmers. He also demanded a seed policy and action against those selling generic pesticides as branded items. He sought improvement of the burns unit in Multan’s Nishter Hospital, besides a cancer unit at the facility.
He proposed that local governments should collect property tax and that the government must notify the increase in the retired employees’ pensions.
PML-N’s Syed Sibtain Raza demanded an increase in the share of south Punjab to remove the sense of deprivation there, status of district for his Tehsil Alipur, de-silting of Muzaffargarh canal and withdrawal of GST on agricultural inputs and implements.
PML-N’s Chaudhry Iqbal said salaries of the low-grade employees must be increased more than those in higher grades. He demanded exemption of property tax for one house of widows and taming of the hill torrents.
PML-Q’s Ahmad Shah Khagga opposed the agriculture income tax and demanded water supply for at least 50 villages in his (Pakpattan) constituency.
Ruling party’s Dr Najma demanded regularisation of 53,000 lady health workers and sought such workers, nurses and paramedical staff should be given better training. She also demanded an increase in the salaries of industrial workers.
Treasury’s Tahira Noon spoke in English and demanded non-salary budget for schools for running their day-to-day affairs and their better monitoring.
PML-N’s Ayesha Javed demanded more powers for the house committees, establishment of provincial finance commission, improvement of the agriculture sector and maintenance of the existing infrastructure.
Shaukat Ali of the ruling party demanded tax free tractors, declaration of Bahawalnagar as an industrial zone, a medical college in the district.
He demanded factories should be barred from throwing waste water in the River Sutlej to save people from deadly diseases.
Javaid Asghar of Nawaz League said South Punjab’s Rajanpur and Dera Ghazi Khan districts should be rid of backwardness. He sought girls and boys colleges in his constituency and doctors and emergency wards in all BHUs. The government was needed to control police and corruption to ensure good governance, he added.
Bilal Ashraf Warriach sought power subsidy for agriculture tube-wells and withdrawal of agriculture income tax.