ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Tuesday witnessed heated exchange of arguments between lawmakers belonging to the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on the issue of urea shortage, wheat crisis and inclusion of members with conflict of interests in parliamentary committees.
There was a rumpus in the house for a brief period when the opposition members protested over the reply of parliamentary secretary for industries and production Aliya Hamza when she claimed that there was no shortage of urea in the country at all and, instead blamed farmers for the crisis, stating that they bought more fertilisers than they needed because of its availability and lesser price.
The issue came under discussion when the house took up a calling attention notice moved by five PPP MNAs regarding shortage of urea fertiliser in the country.
The PPP members refused to hear from the parliamentary secretary and asked Amjid Ali Khan, who was presiding over the sitting in the absence of the speaker and the deputy speaker, to call federal Minister for Industries and Production Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar to respond.
Directing the government to ensure the presence of the minister in the house, Mr Khan deferred further discussion on the issue. During the wait for the minister, the chairman allowed the lawmakers to speak on matters of their choice through points of order. The minister, however, did not turn up despite the chair’s directives until the adjournment of the sitting till Wednesday (today) due to lack of quorum, which was pointed out by a Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) member from Karachi Osama Qadri in protest when he was not given the floor by the chair.
PPP’s Shazia Marri refuted the parliamentary secretary’s claim and rejected her figures, stating that the farmers were on the roads after not finding urea even in black market.
“You cannot deny the shortage of urea. We are heading towards food insecurity. I do not accept the figures. I am seeing the protesting farmers in Okara, Multan, Sanghar, Thatta, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan who have been running from pillar to post to find urea,” said Ms Marri, claiming that the farmers were getting a urea bag after standing in long queues and after paying up to Rs3,500 per bag.
Besides the PPP members, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA from Sahiwal Chaudhry Muhammad Ashraf also raised the issue of urea shortage through a point of order, stating that on the one hand, urea had become dearer in Punjab and on the other, it had become unaffordable for the farmers to pay the electricity charges of tube-wells due to unprecedented spike in diesel prices.
He warned that the situation could cause the shortage of wheat in the country.
Responding to opposition members, Ms Hamza informed the National Assembly that the country had witnessed a record production of urea and the government had already provided 1.2 million urea bags to farmers during the current month. She said the use of urea had witnessed a five per cent increase as compared to previous years, which showed that agriculture production was increasing. She said the record production of urea had also been acknowledged by the Fertiliser Manufacturers Association through advertisements.
She claimed that the price of urea was six times lower than its international market price. She said due to the government’s steps, the country would have bumper crops of rice, maize, wheat and sugarcane. She said the farmers had already used whatever urea they wanted to use for Rabi crops. She said since the farmers had money this time, they had purchased five bags of urea where they were required to have only one. She called for educating farmers about the use of urea efficiently.
Speaking on a point of order, Federal Minister for Communications Murad Saeed called for doing legislation and amending rules to ban the inclusion of parliamentarians in the house committees having conflict of interest. Without elaborating or naming anyone, he regretted that contractors had become members of the committee on communications and those facing corruption charges were sitting in the Public Accounts Committee.
The minister said that Inspector General of Motorway Police had been summoned and asked to apologise for stopping the vehicle of a senator. “How can police personnel ensure rule of law when they will be summoned for stopping the vehicles to ensure writ of the state?” he asked, once again without naming anyone.
In an apparent reference to the cases against the prominent opposition members, Mr Saeed said there were 12,326 prisoners in various jails of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and over 52,000 prisoners in the Punjab jails on minor crimes. He said that there 10,257 jail inmates in KP and 51,468 in Punjab. He said those who had committed bigger corruption had the opportunity to speak in the parliament whereas these prisoners who had committed minor crimes had no voice.
Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Omar Ayub criticised PPP-led Sindh government and blamed it for the wheat crisis in the country.
PPP’s Shazia Marri and Abdul Qadir Patel gave befitting replies to both the ministers and asked them to first remove the ministers from the federal cabinet who had conflict of interest, before making such a demand. They also blasted the government for carrying out one-sided accountability.
Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2022