SAHIWAL: The Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) has apparently ended its negotiations with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) federal and provincial governments and announced a protest march and sit-in outside Parliament House, Islamabad, for Wednesday (today).

The PKI senior leadership admitted that they had postponed their June 17 and 18 protests in Lahore and Islamabad, respectively, after holding separate meetings with Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research Fakhar Imam, Federal Minister for Energy Umer Ayub, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar, who is also chairman of the National Task Force on Agriculture, and PM’s finance adviser Hafeez Shaikh and the finance secretary from June 14-16 at the Parliament House Committee Room.

“But none of the commitments made by the federal ministers were fulfilled even after the passage of a week,” Khalid Mahmood Khokhar, the PKI central president, told Dawn.

The leadership that held negotiations with the government included Mr Khokhar, Punjab President Chaudhry Rizwan, General Secretary Chaudhry Ihsan Ikram and senior member Muhammad Hussain.

Demands included direct subsidy on fertiliser bag, fixing of per-unit rate at Rs5.35 on agricultural tubewell

Their leadership placed three major demands with the government, including direct subsidy on each fertiliser bag by replacing token subsidy mechanism, reduction of tariff and fixing of electricity rate at Rs5.35 per unit on agricultural tubewell, and writing off of interest on all kinds of agricultural loans.

Mr Khokhar said both ministers had agreed to the PKI demands and assured them that budget allocations for agriculture would be increased from Rs50bn to Rs80bn.

Chaudhry Rizwan, who also attended the meeting, told Dawn that minister Mr Ayub told Mr Imam after a meeting with the finance team that after calculating tariff rates, it will be hard to reduce per-unit electricity rate to Rs5.35 (announced during the previous PML-N government), but could be brought down to Rs14.50. But even for that the government would need Rs29bn extra for agriculture.

Both ministers assured the PKI that the amount would be arranged and lead to an increase in the total agriculture budget to Rs80bn. But sources inside the meeting told Dawn that the finance department refused to increase a single penny beyond Rs50bn allocated in the federal budget. This was confirmed by Mr Rizwan.

The finance department told the ministers that from the Rs50bn allocation for agriculture, Rs37bn was meant for fertiliser subsidy and the remaining Rs13bn could be allocated to subsidy on electricity rates or combat locust attacks.

Senior PKI activist Muhammad Hussain, who also attended the meeting, told Dawn that minister Ayub demanded Rs29bn extra from the finance department to bring down per-unit electricity rate on agricultural tubewells from Rs22 to Rs30, to Rs14.50 by subsidising fuel adjustment price and quarterly tariff rationalisation on electricity bills. But the department refused.

Khokhar said that owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and pressure on the economy, the PKI had withdrawn its third demand of writing off all kinds of interest on agriculture loads. But the PTI government failed to accommodate their demands that were agreed upon by the two ministers. This was why the PKI leadership had decided to reschedule its protest march on Islamabad to June 24.

This correspondent spoke to many PKIactivists in Sahiwal, Pakpattan, Vehari and Multan. Dawn learnt from sources that till the filing of this report, many of them had started moving towards Islamabad on personal and rented vehicles.

Mr Rizwan said farmers from around 20 districts of Punjab would reach Islamabad via Chakri Interchange today.

Muhammad Hussain said district activists had mobilised huge crowds and held hundreds of corner meetings in villages to mobilise farmers. “We hope around 4,000 farmers will reach Islamabad from different corners on June 24,” he told Dawn.

Dawn learnt from sources last week that PKI leaders had also met with ministers Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Malik Nauman Langrial and others, but to no avail.

Chaudhry Ihsan said the PTI government had made multiple promises with the farming community during the 2018 election campaign, but failed to fulfil a single demand, instead exerted more pressure on them. He said Pakistan is an agricultural country, but the government was crushing the sector through poor vision and poorly conceived policies.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2020

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