• Locks put on gates of assembly building • CM, ministers attacked • Three MPAs injured in police action • 5,854 jobs to be created; health insurance scheme planned; 100 middle schools to be built
QUETTA: Balochistan on Friday proposed a Rs584.1 billion budget for the next fiscal year that carries a hefty development stimulus of Rs237.2bn and resource shortfall of Rs84.6bn amid rare violent protest by the opposition.
The opposition lawmakers from the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Balochistan National Party-Mengal and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and independent members along with their supporters have been camping outside the assembly building for the last few days in protest against the provincial coalition government led by chief minister Jam Kamal Alyani for its refusal to allocate development funds for their constituencies in the next year’s budget.
The opposition parties had blocked national highways passing through many cities and towns of Balochistan, including Quetta, Chagai, Washuk, Kharan and Nushki, in protest against the government on Thursday. They had announced that they would not allow the government to present the budget unless their suggested development schemes were made part of the provincial Annual Development Programme for the next year.
The budget session was delayed by at least two hours because of the protests as the opposition lawmakers had locked the assembly gates from inside to prevent the treasury members from entering the building. The police had to break open the gate of the MPAs Hostel using an armoured vehicle to let the treasury lawmakers enter the building.
Three opposition members of the assembly were reported to have suffered injuries when they tried to impede the police vehicle from breaking open the gate. They were identified as Ahmed Nawaz Baloch, Babu Rahim and Abdul Wahid Siddiqui.
Later, police clashed with the protesters outside the assembly as they refused to clear the premises. The area outside the assembly presented the picture of a battleground for some time as police used batons and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd to open the main entrance.
A few unidentified activists of the opposition parties vandalised the assembly building and attacked the chief minister and some of his cabinet colleagues. Bushra Rind, the chief minister’s adviser and parliamentary secretary on information, suffered minor injuries.
MPA Sana Baloch said the opposition lawmakers would meet to decide whether to lodge an FIR against the provincial government over the police action against the protesters.
Several hundred policemen had been deployed in and around the assembly and all roads leading to it were closed by parking heavy trucks and erecting fences, causing a massive traffic logjam in the provincial capital.
Balochistan government spokesperson Liaquat Shahwani said in a statement that no constituency had been ignored in the budget proposals, adding that multiple development projects had been included for the opposition members’ constituencies.
Presenting the budget, Finance Minister Zahoor Ahmed Buledi said the government was presenting a “balanced budget” that focused on development of the province in spite of serious financial difficulties. He said the next year’s spending plan aimed at inclusive growth and development of backward areas.
Balochistan is expecting federal transfers of Rs355.9bn, provincial own tax and nontax receipts of Rs103.2bn, cash carryover of Rs15.5bn and foreign project assistance of Rs17.3bn to finance its total current and development expenditure of Rs584.1bn. Thus, the province is facing a resource shortfall of Rs84.6bn for its Annual Development Programme, which it will have to fill either through savings on the current revenue expenditure size or by slashing its development spending like the outgoing year. The provincial government had allocated Rs156.5bn for development during the ongoing financial year, which has been revised downwards to Rs104.6bn due to resource shortfall of Rs87.6bn indicated in the budget.
The budget boosts health expenditure at Rs38.5bn against current year’s estimates of Rs31.4bn. The education expenditure has been increased marginally to Rs71.9bn from Rs70.3bn while the allocation for social protection has been doubled to Rs10.7bn. A sum of Rs3.6bn has been set aside for combating the Covid-19 pandemic in the province.
The finance minister announced that 5,854 government jobs would be created, health insurance cards scheme would be launched to provide free healthcare of up to Rs1 million a year to 1.9m families, 100 middle schools would be built, a food security revolving fund would be launched and emergency centres would be established on highways. He also announced several initiatives for the fishermen, youth, minorities, women, destitute people and students.
The minister also announced 10pc increase in pay and pension of the provincial government employees in line with the federal government’s decision, saying the provincial government had allowed a disparity reduction allowance for its employees in BPS1-19 whose allowances were less than their basic pay. He also announced plans to launch an anticipatory pension under which retiring government employees would get 65pc of their last basic pay as pension till the completion of their retirement documents. The government plans to fund the pension fund with an investment of Rs13bn.
The minister said the government was taking measures to boost provincial own taxes through automation with the help of the State Bank of Pakistan and improving tax regime and administration. The next budget targets tax revenue of Rs34.2bn against the original estimates of Rs20.9bn for the present year. The nontax revenue target has also been enhanced to Rs11.8bn from Rs6.5bn.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2021