ISLAMABAD: The treasury and opposition were in rare unison when the National Assembly on Friday took up the issues being faced by farmers and urged Prime Minister Imran Khan to save the agriculture sector, which is the “backbone” of Pakistan’s economy.
On a calling attention notice, NA Speaker Asad Qaiser opened the debate on the agriculture sector and referred the issues to relevant standing committee for a detailed discussion and evolve a strategy to solve the problems of electricity, tube-well connections, subsidies and taxes.
Comparing Pakistan’s agriculture sector with that of India, some lawmakers said the neighbouring country was giving 100 per cent subsidy to agriculture with the result that the country not only became self-sufficient in agri-products but also started exporting them.
Federal Minister for Power Omar Ayub Khan apprised the house that the government had to give Rs62 billion for subsidies on tariff of electricity, withdrawal of fuel adjustment charges and other taxes.
The house was informed that the government gave a subsidy of Rs5.35 per unit of electricity to the agriculture sector but farmers were receiving electricity over Rs10 per unit due to fuel adjustment charges and taxes.
Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker Syed Naveed Qamar said except the PM, no one could provide relief to farmers particularly when nothing had been allocated in the federal budget 2020-21 for the required subsidies in the agriculture sector. “Now only the PM can do something in this regard and you (may) also talk to the prime minister on the matter,” he added.
“If Rs29 billion subsidy is not reflected in the budget, how the Ministry of Finance can release the required funds for subsidies in agriculture sector,” he added.
Mr Qamar said the issue could be resolved if the prime minister took special interest and made effort, otherwise farmers would continue to suffer.
On this, the power minister said he had attended a meeting last week in which the premier had directed finance adviser Hafeez Shaikh and federal Minister for Food Security Fakhar Imam to find an out-of-box solution to the problems being faced by growers. He quoted the PM as saying that he wanted to support the agriculture sector at any cost.
He said the prime minister had tasked the two cabinet members to come up with the solution within three weeks. The minister, however, suggested the NA Speaker to personally talk to the prime minister on the issue.
Earlier, the calling attention notice on overbilling on tube-wells was moved by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf lawmaker Sardar Talib Hassan Nakai who apprised the house of the problems confronting farmers in the country.
About inflated billing, Mr Nakai said power and other charges on electricity bills of farmers were so high that they were unable to keep prices of agri-products affordable. Also, they could not get connections of tube-wells even in six to eight months, affecting their crops, he added.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz lawmaker Rana Tanveer Hussain said neighbouring India was providing free of cost electricity to the growers and gave 50pc subsidy on fertilisers. Besides, good quality seeds were given to farmers in India, he said, adding that relevant research institutions in Pakistan had failed to produce good standard seeds.
“After coronavirus crisis only those states will survive which are agriculturally rich. For God’s sake, the government should pay special attention to the issue,” he demanded.
PTI lawmaker Nawab Sher said for the past 40 years at least, he had been hearing that “agriculture was the backbone of economy” but nothing had been done for the betterment of the sector.
The lawmaker complained that farmers paid heavy amount for installation of transformers and electricity meters, but Wapda staff removed meters. “They (Wapda employees) do not care about standing crops of growers,” he said.
Also from the ruling PTI, Khawaja Sheraz Mehmood said the government should withdraw all taxes, duties and fuel adjustment charges on agriculture sector. “Agriculture is the only sector which is showing upward growth while all other sectors are declining,” he added.
He said the government was charging Rs28 per unit of electricity on tube-well installed for supply of clean drinking water.
Some other members also spoke on the issue including Haji Imtiaz Ahmed and Noorul Hassan.
In another calling attention notice moved by ex-information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, the House was apprised that the cases of HIV and AIDS were increasing while the government was unable to curb the spread.
She questioned how much foreign funding the government had received so far under Global Aid Programme and where that money was utilised. “Only Pakistan and the Philippines were worst affected by AIDS where it is 57 per cent,” she added.
On this, parliamentary secretary on health Dr Nousheen Hamid said there were 183,000 AIDS patients in Pakistan out of whom only 25,000 were registered, because most people considering the disease a stigma hide it.
She said the government was devising a 2030 policy on HIV and AIDS for a period of 10 years. She said the global funding for AIDS in Pakistan was $71 million for the years 2020-23 while the government had also allocated Rs2 billion as matching funds to combat the disease.
Meanwhile, protesting over torture of journalists and an incident of firing outside Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) office and non-payment of salaries to media persons, journalists staged a walkout from the press gallery.
The NA Speaker tasked Minister of State for Parliament Ali Mohammad Khan to resolve the issue of media persons and referred their issues to the relevant standing committees of the assembly.
Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2020