ISLAMABAD: The opposition legislators in the National Assembly on Thursday decried the federal government’s “inaction” over the unprecedented locust attack in Sindh and alleged blackmailing of the growers by the “powerful sugar mafia”.
The opposition members, mainly belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), while lashing out at the government for not providing the required and approved fund to deal with the catastrophic situation in Sindh, warned that if remedial steps were not taken in time, the situation could go out of control and other provinces might also face the same fate.
Moving a calling attention notice on “locust attacks in the various districts of Sindh”, PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar said that crops were being destroyed and there could be a shortage of wheat in the country, if the issue was not tackled seriously both by the provincial and federal governments.
“We are not interested in hearing that you have formed committees and are holding meetings. We want you to tell us what practical steps you have taken to control the situation,” Mr Qamar said, when parliamentary secretary for National Food Security and Research Ameer Sultan informed the house that the federal government had held a number of meetings and conducted visits to the affected areas besides approving a National Action Plan (NAP) to handle the situation.
Rs300m spent, Rs460m approved to control the situation till July, opposition told in National Assembly
PPP MNA from Badin, Ghulam Ali Talpur, claimed that 12 districts of Sindh had been affected due to the severe locust attack, saying that the locusts had covered the sky like black clouds and the spectacle was of 18th century as people were putting some of their crops on fire to save the remaining crops.
Mr Sultan told the house that besides finalising the NAP, the Economic Coordination Committee had approved Rs460 million which would be spent to control the situation till July. He said the amount would be released soon after its approval by the federal cabinet. He said the government had already spent Rs300m countering the attacks of locust and 14,000 litres of medicine for spray was available in Sindh to be used against the locust. Moreover, he said, orders had been placed to import another 100,000 litres of medicine over the next couple of months. He further said the government had formed committees at the district level to monitor the situation and the deputy commissioners had been directed to report on a fortnightly basis.
Mr Sultan said 28 teams had been constituted, 14 camps set up and seven vehicles and three airplanes deployed for spray in the affected areas. Another aircraft would be provided soon for the purpose after its repair.
Another PPP MNA, Nawab Yousuf Talpur, claimed that only two aircraft were available for the spray, saying that even four aircraft were insufficient to cover the affected areas.
He recalled that when a similar locust took place when the PPP was in the power, they had hired 17 aircraft from Iran and the UAE which prevented the situation from worsening.
Mr Talpur said the attack had taken place in April and since then they had been crying, but the Centre was not providing the required funds.
The opposition members also questioned the absence of recently appointed Food Security Minister Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar from the house when they were deliberating on such an important issue.
Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri asked the parliamentary secretary to “warn” the food security minister and ask him to ensure his presence in the house.
Minister of State for Climate Change Zartaj Gul called for taking steps to protect the cotton crop which had been reduced to 9.8 million bales, the lowest in 17 years. She also suggested seeking assistance from China and Kenya to deal with the locust attack.
Earlier, speaking on points of order, some opposition legislators drew attention of the house to the plight of the sugarcane growers due to a decision by the sugar mafia to close their mills to force the farmers to sell the crops at lesser price.
Rao Ajmal said the elements of sugar mafia were sitting in the ranks of every party, especially in the ruling party. He alleged that the sugar mafia had managed to get the sugar price increased over the years, but they were forcing the growers to sell sugarcane at a price less than the previous year’s.
“Please save us from this sugar mafia,” he pleaded.
Responding to the points, Communications Minister Murad Saeed claimed that Prime Minister Imran Khan had already taken notice of the situation and directed the authorities to stop sugar mill owners from exploiting the farmers.
At the outset of the sitting, the government faced an embarrassing situation when a member of the ruling PTI, Junaid Akbar, pointed out lack of quorum, forcing the deputy speaker to suspend the proceedings for more than an hour.
The deputy speaker also directed the ministers, state ministers and parliamentary secretaries to ensure their presence in the house during question hour.
A PML-N minority MNA, Dr Darshan, staged a walkout from the assembly to register his protest over the incidents of alleged forced conversion of people belonging to minority committees in Sindh.
Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2020