LAHORE: Punjab’s 2021-22 budget session was marred by the protest of the opposition members who rejected it outrightly here on Monday.

As Finance Minister Hashim Jawan Bakht started the budget speech in the Punjab Assembly, the opposition members rose from their seats and chanted slogans against the PTI government.

Some of the PML-N lawmakers had brought whistles with them to cause interruptions in the budget speech.

As the session was held in the new provincial assembly building, recently completed at a cost of Rs5.39 billion, with a seating capacity of 422 members and 800 persons in the Visitors’ Gallery, the opposition members could not reach closer to the speaker’s chair, as they would do in the old building, to lodge a protest.

The opposition members brought placards inscribed with slogans rejecting the budget. Some of the PML-N lawmakers also raised slogans echoing the party Quaid Nawaz Sharif’s narrative ‘vote ko izzat do’ [give respect to the ballot]. However, there were not many takers of the slogan on the opposition benches.

Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, who was feeling uncomfortable by sloganeering as most of the PML-N MPAs were standing close to him, after the session, termed the opposition members’ behaviour ‘nonparliamentary’. Earlier, upon Buzdar’s arrival in the house, the treasury benches started thumping desks to welcome him, only to be reminded by the opposition to keep quiet as recitation from the Holy Quran was underway.

Earlier, Punjab Assembly Speaker Parvez Elahi opened the session with a brief speech describing how the new building was completed and credited former principal secretary to the chief minister, G.M.Sikandar for it.

As some of the opposition members wanted to speak on point of order, he asked them to have patience and let the house complete its agenda.

As the session began, journalists boycotted the proceedings in protest against the torture of a colleague. However, Special Assistant to Chief Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan rushed to the Press Gallery and assured them of redressal of their grievances. On this, the journalists ended the boycott.

PML-N Punjab information secretary and lawmaker Azma Bokhari said: “Usman Buzdar and his incompetent team have emptied the provincial kitty. In three years this PTI government under Buzdar performed badly, making the lives of over 110 million people [of Punjab] miserable.” Ms Bokhari accused the finance minister of giving subsidies to his family’s sugar mills. “In the third budget Mr Bakht had again talked about establishing nine hospitals in the province, only repeating what he had said in his first and second years’ budget speeches,” she said and added that the “inept” Buzdar government could manage to spend only 48pc of the last development budget of the province.

Meanwhile, PML-N rebel MPA Jalil Sharqpuri gave an application to Speaker Parvez Elahi, requesting him to allot separate seats in the house to him and five other like-minded members.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2021

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