ISLAMABAD: In order to boost the construction industry and remove hurdles in its way, the federal cabinet on Tuesday decided to form a high-level committee, comprising representatives of the federal and provincial governments, which will make unanimous decisions on a daily basis.
A meeting of the federal cabinet, which was presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan here, authorised all provincial governments to impose smart lockdowns in coronavirus hotspots and decided to take stern action against those who violate the government’s SOPs (standard operating procedures).
Although it was expected that the cabinet meeting would decide punitive action against those responsible for the recent shortage of petrol in the country, it was informed that consumption of petrol had increased by 51 per cent in the country.
Even in an official press release, it was not elaborated how petrol consumption in the country had gone up suddenly.
Federal cabinet allows provinces to impose lockdown in coronavirus hotspots
“The cabinet decided to establish a high-level committee, on the pattern of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), in which representatives of the Centre and provinces will make decision on a daily basis on how the construction industry can flourish and how hurdles coming in its way can be removed,” said Information Minister Shibli Faraz at a post-cabinet meeting press conference.
He said the committee was being formed under the Naya Pakistan Housing Authority to find on a fast track solution to the problems coming in the way of the construction industry.
Talking about the decision on lockdowns, the minister said: “The cabinet has authorised provinces to impose lockdown in areas where SOPs are not being followed.”
“Those who will not follow preventive measures will be dealt with strictly and heavy fine will be imposed on them,” the minister added.
Meanwhile, a source told Dawn that although the provinces could impose the lockdown in any area, it was decided that any decision regarding Covid-19 would be taken unanimously by the NCOC.
The source said that earlier the NCOC had decided that there would be no lockdown, but now it decided that the provinces could impose it in any area where the virus was rapidly spreading.
Mr Faraz warned that cases of Covid-19 could sharply increase in the country to such an extent that the existing capacity of hospitals and doctors would become inadequate. He quoted Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar as saying that the number of Covid-19 cases would go up to 1.2 million by the middle of August. “We appeal to people to follow SOPs and not to go to crowded places,” he added.
He said the deadly virus had badly hit the country’s economy and as a result the government could not meet tax collection targets. “Despite all odds like debts, interest on debts, salaries of government employees and low tax collection, the government made an increase of Rs100 billion in the Public Sector Development Programme,” he added.
The information minister said the lockdown was not a solution to Covid-19 as many rich countries could not afford it and were compelled to reopen their businesses. “When neighbouring India imposed a complete lockdown on March 26, the total number of coronavirus patients in that country was only 623 and when the lockdown was lifted their number surpassed the 198,000 mark,” he added.
He said that despite criticism the government had devised its strategy on the basis of ground realities and slowly reopened businesses and industries in the country to maintain a balance between preventive measures and the economy.
Mr Faraz said the government had allocated Rs1.24 trillion to tackle the Covid-19 crisis which could not be fully utilised. “In order to avoid lapse of the remaining fund by the end of the fiscal year, the cabinet had decide to form a Covid-19 fund to utilise the amount next year,” he added.
The prime minister, he said, stressed the need for improving export of mangoes, other fruits and rice to Iran and Afghanistan.
The meeting decided to bring back all Pakistanis stranded in different countries and utilise all resources in this regard.
The meeting could not make any decision regarding construction of high-rise buildings in the vicinity of airports in major cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, Peshawar and Multan.
The meeting was apprised that ‘no objection certificates’ had been issued for 62 per cent areas near airports and the Civil Aviation Authority had been directed to issue NOCs for construction of buildings in its jurisdiction.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2020