PML-N MPA Sardar Awais Leghari on Wednesday presented Punjab's budget for the fiscal year 2022-23 at the budget session chaired by Deputy Speaker Dost Mohammad Mazari and held in Aiwan-i-Iqbal in Lahore, while another session chaired by Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi took place simultaneously at the provincial legislature.
The parallel sessions were held after the government and the opposition failed to resolve their differences. It was likely the first time that separate sessions of the Punjab Assembly were held in tandem.
The budget was presented two days after the Punjab Assembly session was convened for the purpose, owing to the provincial government's deadlock with the speaker. The budget's total outlay was Rs3,226 billion.
The government allocated a hefty amount of Rs685bn under the Annual Development Programme (ADP) with a special focus on pro-poor initiatives and controlling inflation. No new tax has been imposed in the budget.
In terms of development sectors, the highest allocation of Rs272.6bn was for the social sector, which includes Rs172.5 5bn for the health sector and Rs64.56bn for the education sector. Additionally, Rs164bn were allocated to infrastructure development, including Rs80.8bn for the roads sector.
The budget session chaired by Elahi resumed at 2:40pm, over 1.5 hours later than scheduled, and began with prayers for deceased MNA Aamir Liaquat Hussain, former Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) director Mohammad Rizwan who probed the money laundering charges against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz and died of a heart attack last month and Malik Maqsood Ahmad — frequently referred to as Maqsood 'Chaprasi' — a central figure in the money laundering case, who passed away in the UAE earlier this month.
Later, PTI Central Punjab president Dr Yasmin Rashid moved a privilege motion against provincial minister Attaullah Tarar for making an "obscene gesture" and violating the privilege of the assembly.
PTI's Momina Waheed said Tarar's gesture had "violated women's dignity".
The motion was accepted and the speaker sent it to the relevant committee to decide within two months.
Meanwhile, Mian Mohammad Aslam Iqbal, another lawmaker of the former ruling party, said PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz should have condemned Tarar's actions.
"I have been told to speak less [but] we are not sold. We are standing with [former prime minister] Imran Khan," he asserted.
Former law minister, Mohammad Basharat Raja, demanded that the room allotted to Tarar in the provincial legislature be taken back.
He also claimed that the incumbent Punjab government wanted to arrest lawmakers on a "large scale".
The session chaired by Elahi also rejected the Punjab Laws (Repealing and Removal of Difficulties) Ordinance 2022, which was promulgated by the governor yesterday, which stated that the secretary of the law and parliamentary affairs department would issue notifications when the governor or speaker summoned or prorogued a session.
The ordinance also repealed the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab Secretariat (Services) Act 2019, the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab Privileges (Amendment) Act 2021 (XXI of 2021) and the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab Privileges (Amendment) Act 2021 (XXVI of 2021).
The amendment law had added a schedule to the original 1972 Act, prescribing punishment to a bureaucrat for breach of privilege of the House, any of its committee or member and granting judicial powers to the speaker and/or the committee named by him or the House on the breach.
Reacting to the ordinance in today's session, Raja termed it a "shameful act". He claimed that Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz had "pleaded" for the amendment law to be passed.
Subsequently, the session chaired by Elahi was adjourned till 1pm on Thursday (tomorrow).
Talking to the media later in the day, MPA Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed said legal action would be pursued against the deputy speaker while Speaker Elahi, the Election Commission of Pakistan and higher courts would be approached to de-seat and disqualify him.
Raja criticised the way today's events went down and the manner in which the alternate assembly session was held. He said Punjab's affairs were being run in an illegal and unconstitutional manner.
"I think whatever is happening is wrong and we have consulted the speaker ... that we can't tolerate this situation for long and will have to approach the courts."
Meanwhile, Elahi alleged that an attempt was made to deprive the Punjab Assembly of its rights. He said such actions were never taken in previous governments.
Deadlock between govt, opposition
The Punjab Assembly had on Monday witnessed a daylong drama as Speaker Elahi refused to conduct the session and allow the provincial budget to be presented, demanding the inspector general of police (IGP) first tender an apology to him and withdraw all cases lodged against the PTI and PML-Q workers and parliamentarians, in connection with the chaotic April 16 session.
After back-to-back meetings between the treasury and opposition for over six hours, followed by brief proceedings of the house, the speaker took a strong stance over the non-appearance of the chief secretary and the IGP and asserted that the proceedings would continue only when both officers were present in the assembly gallery.
After keeping the proceedings paused till 11pm, Elahi adjourned the session till 1pm on Tuesday — without allowing the presentation of the province's budget for financial year 2022-23.
However, proceedings could not move forward again when the assembly's 40th session resumed on Tuesday. Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz, who looked frustrated at the speaker's tactics, announced he would come up with another strategy to deal with the problem.
Later in the day, Governor Balighur Rehman cancelled the ongoing 40th session and summoned the 41st at Aiwan-i-Iqbal, some 700 metres away from the Punjab Assembly, at 2pm on Wednesday (today). However, despite the governor's orders, the speaker declared that the 40th session would continue.
Reportedly, the Punjab government had shown some flexibility over the withdrawal of cases against PTI lawmakers and workers, but was not ready to budge over the appearance of the IGP and the CS before the speaker and opposition MPAs in the house. "Hamza is taking directions from the top party leadership over the matter that has told him not to concede to the opposition's demands," a source said.
Talking to reporters on Tuesday night, Speaker Elahi termed the proposed Aiwan-i-Iqbal session illegal and unconstitutional.
The opposition believes the parallel session will be akin to the 'mock' one the PML-N held a couple of months ago at a local hotel to elect Hamza as the CM.
Former Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) secretary, Kunwar Dilshad, told DawnNewsTV that Elahi was interpreting the law and the Constitution "incorrectly".
"All constitutional and legal powers are vested in the governor Punjab. The speaker has no power to summon the provincial assembly session," he said.
"The real authority is with the governor Punjab and the session he has summoned at Aiwan-i-Iqbal ... to prevent chaos and danger. I do not understand the law according to which an experienced politician like Chaudhry Parvez Elahi summoned the session."
Meanwhile, PTI leaders criticised the parallel budget sessions, with former planning and development minister Asad Umar calling it a "spectacle".
Former information minister Fawad Chaudhry said Punjab was facing the "worst constitutional and administrative crisis".
"Neither the chief minister nor the cabinet are known," he said, while referring to ongoing cases challenging Hamza's election as the chief minister.
"Come out of [your] stubbornness and ego. Give the people a chance [so] the political crisis can reach a final conclusion and [we] move towards elections," he tweeted.
Meanwhile, the budget earlier approved by the cabinet proposed a 15 per cent increase in the salary of public sector employees, 5pc raise in pensions of retired officials and Rs109.1 billion for foreign-funded projects. The proposed budget envisages a wide range of subsidies and relief packages worth Rs190.58bn, and around Rs1.712 trillion for service delivery in various sectors — 20pc higher than the ongoing FY's Rs1.428tr.
According to the budget document, the government's flagship initiatives during the next fiscal have been proposed for Rs100bn for social protection (utility support programme), and Rs31.5bn for south Punjab alone.
The other flagship projects included Rs9bn for Road Rehabilitation Programme, Rs5bn for land acquisition for development projects, Rs1.35bn for minority development and Rs1.5bn for provision of laptops to students.
The proposed sectoral allocations would be Rs1,083.69bn for social and Rs216.68bn for infrastructure development, Rs127.32bn for production, Rs663.15 for services and Rs306.09bn for special initiatives sectors.
Additional reporting by Ali Waqar.