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LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly on Tuesday resonated with opposition’s favourite slogan “Go Shahbaz Go” after its leader Mahmoodur Rashid taunted the Sharif family over the Lahore High Court decision regarding the shifting of their sugar mills from central to south Punjab, also seeking the chief minister’s resignation on this account.

The opposition leader also sought Speaker Rana Iqbal’s permission for filing a reference against Mr Shahbaz Sharif (on the sugar mills issue) which, he said, had earlier been disallowed under the pretext that it was about a sub judice matter.

The opposition, otherwise considered tiny because of having a few seats in the assembly, seemed to have dominated the house because of the sloganeering and the absence of majority PML-N members, especially the women, who would normally intercept such tirades and marginalise the dissent by responding in the same coin.

Though minister Tahir Sindhu and Chief Whip Rana Arshad tried to defend the Sharifs, their points of view were overshadowed by the rumpus created by the opposition.

Mehmoodur Rashid paid tributes to the judiciary for what he said giving an epoch-making decision which he said was a relief for the poor who yearn for justice. “The countdown of the ruling elite has started,” he claimed.

He said by favouring his family, the chief minister had violated the oath of his office. “This never happens in any country. The court has declared that the family has violated its stay orders for eight times and also lied before it. Please allow us to move the reference against the chief minister,” he said.

Demanding the chief minister should resign in the first instance, he said Shahbaz should not follow his elder brother (ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif) who ignored demands for his resignation but was ultimately disqualified by the Supreme Court.

Sindhu said the opposition leader was sermonising at a time when the election commission was taking exception to his party’s conduct. “We are filing an appeal against the LHC decision (in sugar mills case) in the Supreme Court,” he declared.

Rana Arshad could hardly hurl a counter allegation that the PTI leaders, including Jehangir Tareen, were land grabbers, as his voice was subdued by the spirited sloganeering by the PTI members. He clearly lacked the usual support of his party’s spirited women. “Gula Lai” was the only slogan raised by someone from the treasury benches in response to the opposition’s onslaught.

The session was adjourned till Wednesday morning for want of quorum pointed out by PTI’s Dr Murad Rass, before completing its agenda for the day. It had begun late by over an hour with only 13 members in the house, forcing the speaker to repeat names of the participants in the Question Hour to ensure some business was conducted during the day’s proceedings.

Two ministers took part in the Question Hour; Malik Sher Ali Khan (mines), who was well-prepared and the other Jahangir Khanzada (sports and youth affairs), who apparently did not do his homework well.

Replying to a supplementary question by Ms Nighat Sheikh of the PML-N, Mr Khan said a Chinese company under the supervision of a German consultant firm had completed exploration of iron ore in Chiniot Rajoa.

It had indicated the presence of 150 million tonne of iron ore but this quantity was 190 million tonne as per Chinese standards. The reserves had the capacity of producing 33 million tonnes of steel in 33 years. The feasibility for the mining and the steel mill would be completed by the end of this year.

He said the government was opening international tenders on September 15 for the exploration of minerals over 18,000sqkm area in Punjab. Whether there were any allied metals in Chiniot and whether it would be financially viable to mine them would be assessed at a later stage, he said, while replying to a query by the speaker about the presence of gold in the reserves.

He said a feasibility report for the mining was being prepared by a consortium which would be submitted by the end of this month. Following this, investors would be attracted for mining, he said, announcing the Chiniot project had been included in the CPEC.

Replying to another question, he said it was not economically viable to extract metals like gold and iron ore from river sand. That was why, he said, the government was not awarding contracts for the purpose. The issue of quarrels between different people over the ownership of sand containing such metals was not related to the mines department, he said when the questioner, Ahmad Khan Bhacchar, reported a double murder over the issue in Mianwali on Monday.

Sports minister Jahangir Khanzada could not inform Dr Nosheen Hamid of the PTI about the total budget for sports for the current and last financial years. Speaker Rana Iqbal referred the question to a house committee concerned for a perusal or probe. Mr Khanzada could not also mention the location of a stadium which he said was being built in Sahiwal, prompting the speaker to doubt whether it was actually being built or not. The minister, however, said he would inform the house about the exact location after inquiring about it (from his department) as the questioner Nabila Hakim Ali insisted on an exact answer.

The speaker referred a privilege motion by PPP’s Qazi Ahmad Saeed to the privilege committee and kept pending several adjournment motions mainly relating to the health department till the next week because of the absence of the health minister.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2017