ISLAMABAD: The government on Friday declared national emergency to eliminate the attacking swarms of desert locust which are destroying crops on a large scale in Punjab after wiping out the same in Sindh.
The decision was taken at a meeting convened by Prime Minister Imran Khan at the PM Office. The meeting attended by federal ministers and senior officials of the four provinces also approved a national action plan (NAP) that requires a sum of Rs7.3 billion to overcome the crisis.
On the other hand, Minister for National Food Security Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar informed the National Assembly about the gravity of the situation and the steps so far taken by the federal and provincial governments to deal with the crisis.
During the meeting at the PM Office, which was also attended by Mr Khusro and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal, a detailed briefing on the overall situation was given to the prime minister.
The meeting was informed that besides involving the officials concerned at the provincial and district levels, different tasks have been given to the NDMA, provincial disaster management authorities and federal and provincial departments to deal with the threat.
Prime Minister Khan ordered formation of a high-level committee to be headed by Khusro Bakhtiar to take decisions at the federal level for elimination of locust swarms. The NDMA chairman was made a focal person in this regard.
The prime minister directed the authorities concerned to make immediate measures on the basis of damage of ripened crops. “Protection of farms and farmers is the highest priority of the government. Therefore, the federal government should take all necessary steps to save national crops and provide required resources to the quarters concerned,” he was quoted as saying.
A source privy to the meeting told Dawn that the prime minister was informed that the food security ministry had four aircraft last month for spray of pesticides, but unfortunately one aircraft crashed two weeks ago in Rahim Yar Khan. The meeting decided to take some more aircraft on rent.
Earlier, speaking on the floor of the National Assembly, Khusro Bakhtiar said that once the food security ministry had 20 aircraft, but now only three were operational which were used to spray pesticides on 20,000 acres.
He said the national action plan was devised for a period of one-and-a-half years during which assistance of the federal, provincial and local governments and army would be sought.
The minister informed the house that it was for the first time that after attacking Sindh and Punjab, the swarms of locust had entered Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “A sum of Rs7.3bn is required to avoid further destruction,” he added.
He said a special plan was also being devised to kill locusts in KP. “Declaration of national emergency was eminent to handle the situation; besides, parliament must have a role in monitoring the situation,” he added.
Mr Bakhtiar claimed that the government had managed to save cotton and Kharif crops to a large extent, adding that climate change was one of the reasons for delay in the exit of locusts. He said the situation was worse than the one Pakistan faced in 1993. At that time, he added, locusts had not been traced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but this time they were found in Dera Ismail Khan as well.
He said the swarms of locust were currently on the Pakistan-India border along Cholistan, adding that locusts had entered Cholistan and Nara from Sindh and Balochistan. Previously, he added, locusts used to move to Iran after sometime, but perhaps this time due to low temperatures they were still present in Pakistan.
Nawab Yousuf Talpur of the PPP said that in 1993 when locusts had attacked the country, the situation had been handled in four days with limited resources.
Five different bills were introduced in the National Assembly, seeking further amendments to some acts and ordinances. They are: Government Savings Bank (Amendment) Act 2020, Post Office Cash Certificate (Amendment) Act 2020, Post Office National Savings Certificates (Amendment) Act 2020, Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2020 and Emigration Ordinance (Amendment) Act 2020.
PPP’s Abdul Qadir Patel raised objection to the tabling of Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2020 without its passage by the relevant standing committee. He recalled a statement by Prime Minister Khan in a sarcastic way and said: “Inject us hooron wala injection and get passed all the bills from us.”
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan revealed in the house that during removal of over 800,000 “fake” beneficiaries from the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) data, 265 were found to be genuine and deserving people. He said the names of 100 of the 265 people had been included in the programme again and the rest would be included soon.
PPP MNA Nafisa Shah accused the government of changing the name of the BISP. “What is the problem with the name of [former prime minister] Benazir Bhutto. Why BISP’s name is being changed?” she asked.
At this, Mr Khan clarified that the BISP was not being renamed and it would continue to run under the government’s flagship programme called Ehsaas. “We have increased allocation for the programme from Rs100 billion to Rs190bn,” he said.
The National Assembly was informed that over two million people got themselves registered for seeking plots/flats under the Naya Pakistan Housing Project. Each applicant was charged Rs250 and so far Rs116 million had been spent on advertisement and projection of the housing scheme.
Sabir Qaimkhani of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement pointed out that some content had been published in a social studies book that humiliated Mohajirs. He read out the content saying: “[In] 1980 an unplanned residential colony was established in Karachi where 1.2 million Beharis, who escaped from Bangladesh, dwelled.”
He demanded that the book be confiscated and a stern action be taken against those responsible for its publication.
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2020