|Farmers spill milk on Constitution Avenue during their protest near Parliament House on Tuesday. — Photo by Ishaque Chaudhry|
ISLAMABAD: Anti-government slogans filled the air and milk flowed on the Constitution Avenue on Tuesday when farmers feeling hurt by the budgetary proposals protested outside the Parliament House as elected representatives debated the budget inside.
Angry that instead of providing new incentives, the budget deprived them of whatever relief the farming sector had been enjoying, the protesting farmers blocked one side of the avenue and emptied the milk canisters they had brought with them.
Some onlookers were not amused at the wastage. But the protesters retorted that “multinational companies charge more for the water they sell than they pay to us for our milk”.
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Federal Food Minister Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan and Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah, along with some elected representatives, arrived at the scene and assured the agitated farmers that they will raise their problems in the parliament.
For the last many months the farming community had been agitating for the withdrawal of General Sales Tax (GST) on its products and the agriculture machines they use. Several times the community announced to stage protest in front of the parliament but each time the attempt was busted by the arrest of intending farmers in Punjab.
On Tuesday they surreptitiously reached the Constitution Avenue and blocked one side of it.
Khalid Mehmood, the central president of the Pakistan Kisan Ittehad, who came from Multan, addressing the protesters said that Pakistan was an agriculture country but its farmers have been suffering for decades.
“In every budget we face a new tax on agriculture,” he said. “Last year, the government subsidy of Rs30 billion for tube-wells helped the farmers get electricity at the flat rate of Rs10.50 per unit. But this year that subsidy has been withdrawn.”
Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research Sikandar Hayat Bosan promised the protesters that the government would ensure facilities for the farmers.
“I am the son of a farmer and myself a farmer. I understand your problems. I will convey them to the prime minister and he will surely pay attention to the issues,” he told them.
Leader of the opposition Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah agreed with the protesters that the federal budget had “nothing for the farmers” and promised PPP’s support in their struggle.
“I believe that the government is not fair to the farmers. I will raise voice for the farmers on the floor of the house,” he said.
MNA Jamshed Dasti said on the occasion that government policies had increased the farmers’ cost of production more than what they could hope to get for their crops. “Unless the government frames pro-agriculture policies, Pakistan’s economy cannot progress,” he said.
Secretary General of the Pakistan Kisan Ittehad District Wehari Muhammad Akram Kamboh said that governments world over dud not impose GST on the agriculture sector and give subsidy to ensure affordable food for the people.
“But in Pakistan farmers are ignored. There is GST on fertilizers, pesticides, agriculture machinery, diesel and other products due to which input cost on the agriculture has increased enormously,” he said.
“We decided to hold a token protest from 10am to 2pm. We did not announce our protest this time as in the past Punjab police preempted our plans by arresting farmers,” he told Dawn, threatening “we will come again if the government ignored our token protest.”
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2015