ISLAMABAD: Taking part in a general debate on the government’s agriculture policy in the National Assembly after suspending the legislative business, including passage of the two crucial anti-terror financing bills, members from both sides of the aisle on Monday urged the government to give subsidies on various agriculture inputs and take steps for the protection of growers’ rights.
The legislators belonging to the treasury and opposition benches in their speeches while raising problems being faced by agriculturists in the country gave examples of neighbouring India and Iran where, they said, farmers were getting huge subsidies and facilities.
The house began the debate, which will continue till Thursday, after an opening statement by Minister for National Food Security Fakhar Imam in which he admitted that the agriculture sector had remained neglected during the past over 70 years. He called for allocating more resources for research work and establishing high quality research institutes in the country.
Mr Imam said the time had come to bring agriculture in the “mainstream of economy”. He said his ministry was discussing with the Ministry of Power a plan to rationalise tariff for tubewells. The members expressed their concerns over the government’s apathy towards the agriculture sector which was known as the “country’s backbone”, regretting that despite the fact that most of the members of the house had an agricultural background, it never got importance in the policy making.
Minister says time has come to bring agriculture in ‘mainstream of economy’
The members were of the view that subsidies should be announced on seeds, fertilisers, diesel and solar tube-wells so that the farmers could get a better reward of their hard work. A number of legislators called for devising effective marketing strategy to save farmers from exploitation by sugar and flour mills and other industries.
The members also protested over the absence of the national food security minister from the house and other officials of the ministry from the gallery, forcing Amjid Ali Khan, who was presiding over the sitting in the absence of the speaker and the deputy speaker, to issue directives to the parliamentary affairs minister, Ali Muhammad Khan, to ensure presence of the federal secretary within 10 minutes.
The issue of the absence of minister was raised by none other than Ali Muhammad Khan himself, who said that there was no one in the house and the galleries to take notes of speeches being delivered by the members.
An independent MNA from the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Mohsin Dawar, recalled that during the whole budget session, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh did not turn up to the house despite repeated rulings by the chair. He said the adviser also did not attend the meetings of the standing committees, alleging that he was acting like an agent of the “East India Company”.
Raja Riaz of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) even suggested the chair to adjourn the proceedings in protest over the absence of the minister and the ministry officials.
International conference Later, Minister Fakhar Imam came to the house and informed the members that he had gone to attend an international conference through Skype on the agriculture issue.
During Mr Imam’s absence, some of the opposition members expressed their disappointment over the minister’s speech, saying that instead of highlighting his performance and giving a roadmap, Mr Imam had mostly focused on the history and presented facts and figures mostly known to everyone.
The house once again witnessed a verbal clash between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the PTI on the controversial Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report on Lyari gangster Uzair Baloch.
Speaker Asad Qaiser switched off the mike of PPP’s Abdul Qadir Patel, who wanted to speak on a point of personal explanation to give response to Ports and Shipping Minister Ali Zaidi. He had alleged that the JIT report also contained Mr Patel name as one of the facilitators of Uzair Baloch.
Mr Patel said he had also submitted a privilege motion against the minster for reading out a fake JIT report. He also criticised Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, who was presiding over the sitting when the minister read out extracts from the report in the previous session, saying that he should not have allowed Mr Zaidi to speak on a sub judice matter.
On this, the speaker asked Mr Patel not to speak on the matter. Mr Patel then turned his guns towards Prime Minister Imran Khan, saying that parliament and the nation had never seen a prime minister who had taken so much u-turns.
The speaker again turned Mr Patel’s mike off, prompting a strong protest by the opposition members, which was also responded by the treasury members through slogans ‘Qatil, Qatil and Bhatta Khor’ (murderer and extortionist).
Opening up the debate on the agriculture from the opposition side, Ali Gohar Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) criticised the government’s decision of ending the subsidy for electricity consumers using 300 units and reducing it to consumers using only 50 units per month.
He said without giving subsidies to the agriculture sector, the country could not make any progress. He said sugar mills owners had not yet paid to farmers.
Nawabzada Iftikhar Ahmed Khan of the PPP expressed his concerns over increase in the “cost of production” in the country due to high prices of fertilisers and supply of spurious pesticides. He asked the government to announce compensation package for those farmers whose lands had been affected by locust swarms.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2020