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ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the National Assembly on Tuesday criticised the government for what it called “unfair” distribution of agriculture loans. It claimed that the major chunk of the agriculture loans had been given to Punjab.

The house was informed that 88 per cent of total agriculture loans of Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) were given to Punjab last year, while the rest were distributed among three provinces — Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Speaking at a calling-attention notice, Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah said that by giving almost 90pc of agriculture loans to Punjab, the government had set a new example of usurping the rights of less populous provinces.

He expressed dissatisfaction over the rate of interest of agriculture and housing loans and said: “It is really unjustified with people of the country that the rate of interest of the state-run banks on agriculture and housing loans is much higher than that of private commercial banks.”

The opposition leader urged people on treasury benches to sit with opposition members to resolve the issue. Otherwise, he added, the opposition would not allow any such legislation and keep opposing the disparity.

Over 85pc of ZTBL agriculture loans given to Punjab last year, NA informed

One of the movers, Syed Naveed Qamar, said that the huge disparity in disbursement of farm loans between Punjab and the rest of the country was a matter of urgent public importance. It caused concern among the public, he said and added: “A sense of deprivation is being created among three provinces of the country.”

On this, Minister of State for Finance Rana Afzal said that over Rs1 billion agriculture loans had been given by ZTBL last year of which 77pc was given to Punjab on the basis of cultivatable land.

Rejecting the impression that Punjab had been given an undue favour by the Centre, the minister claimed that the three other provinces could not fully utilise the amount of loans they had received. Therefore, he added, there was no question of disparity in disbursement of agriculture loans.

Mr Afzal claimed that the small provinces had been given more loans over the past two years than what they had received before that period.

He suggested that every province should have its own agriculture bank so that problems in agriculture in these provinces could be solved.

Mr Qamar alleged that the government was bent upon declaring people of the three provinces as “thieves” by claiming that the rate of recovery of loans in Sindh, Balochistan and KP was lower than that of Punjab. “The same lame excuse is made by the Ministry of Water and Power when it justifies electricity loadshedding in the three provinces by saying that the line losses there are higher as compare to Punjab,” he added.

Another mover of the notice, Syed Ghulam Mustafa Shah, said that if the rate of recovery of loans in Sindh, Balochistan and KP was unsatisfactory then its responsibility lay on the federal government.

Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho said it was a wrong concept that 70pc of total cultivatable land of the country was located in Punjab.

Another signatory of the notice, Abdul Sattar Bachani, claimed that the government had failed to make new initiatives for improving agricultural production in the country and facilitating farmers.

NA employee bill

Later, the house passed the National Assembly Secretariat Employee Bill, 2018, relating to the recruitment and condition of service of persons appointed in the NA Secretariat (NAS).

When the bill was moved by ruling party MNA Nighat Perveen Mir, it was opposed by some opposition leaders from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Arif Alvi of the PTI proposed some amendments to the bill and opposed the idea of giving the power of hiring and firing and all financial issues to Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq.

As a result of one of the amendments, it was unanimously decided that all employees of the NAS from grade-16 and above would be appointed through the Federal Public Service Commission.

Because of an amendment major financial powers in the bill have been bestowed upon the NA Standing Committee on Finance.

In the whole business of the house on Tuesday, more than 31 reports of the NA standing committee and over a dozen bills were tabled.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2018