KARACHI, Feb 12: Members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is a coalition partner in the PPP-led federal and Sindh governments, took exception to repeated assertions by Irrigation Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah that during the 2002-07 assembly’s tenure, the provincial government did not adopt any resolutions against the construction of the Kalabagh Dam, and that it further prevented the PPP from tabling any resolutions on the subject on private members’ days.

Responding to Mr Shah’s assertion, MQM Parliamentary Party leader Syed Sardar Ahmad, who is also a minister in the cabinet, said that his party was not making an issue of the matter in order to maintain the “atmosphere of reconciliation”.

Mr Ahmad, whose party was a major coalition partner in the last PML-Q led government and who was also senior minister then, recalled that the MQM had worked in the interests of Sindh at all times during the tenure of the previous government. He said whether the issue was the NFC, water resources or the Thal Canal, the MQM had worked to represent the people of Sindh. He said his government had told former president Pervez Musharraf that the people of Sindh had reservations against the construction of the Kalabagh Dam and had had the construction of the water reservoir deferred.

Supporting the stand taken by Leader of the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly Jam Madad Ali, Mr Ahmad said: “Jam Madad has rightly said that today the decision on the Kalabagh Dam should be endorsed by the Council of Common Interest and the Cabinet Division for the final burial of the issue.”

Earlier, the House was called to order by Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza at 12.15pm, over two hours behind the scheduled time, soon after the offering of Fateha for the deceased and early recovery of sick persons mentioned by the MPAs.

MQM Parliamentary Party Deputy leader Syed Faisal Sabzwari then made a personal statement to “set the record straight” under Rule 191.

He referred to the statement made by Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah on Wednesday on the floor of the House and contested his claims regarding the previous government’s attitude towards the Kalabagh Dam.

Mr Sabzwari, who is also a minister in the PPP led government, recalled that the Kalabagh Dam was a project which had been rejected unanimously by the people of Sindh and the MQM, being a representative party from the province, had even before the 2002 elections held seminars and called strikes in 2001. He said the MQM defended Sindh’s interests in the house as well.

He said that not only had resolutions been passed, but they were also taken to the prime minister and president to demand that the dam project be shelved until Sindh’s objections were dealt with.

Mr Sabzwari welcomed the PPP’s decision, made soon after assuming power, to shelve the dam project.

He hoped that all sides in the house, as has been the case in the past, would continue to extend full support whenever issues in the interest of Sindh were taken up.

Jam Madad Ali, Leader of the Opposition, thanked Mr Sabzwari for reminding that the resolution was also adopted by the last assembly. He said he conceded that no one in Sindh wanted to see the Kalabagh Dam built, but he would like the chapter to finally be closed by decisions from the CCI and Cabinet Division.

Syed Murad Ali Shah, however, was not satisfied with Mr Sabzwari’s statements, and insisted that no resolution had been passed between 2002 and 2007 against the Kalabagh Dam.

Before giving the floor to Syed Sardar Ahmad, in a bid to close the discussion on the Kalabagh dam, Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza said that after announcements from President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani on the matter, the issue should not be discussed over and over again.

She said that the people had already given their verdict on the performance of the previous government, and asserted that she wanted to see a “good atmosphere continue” in the house.

Arif Jatoi also wanted to respond to Murad Ali Shah’s assertion, but the chair then moved on to the next item on the agenda, which was question hour.

Power, land misuse issues highlighted

Shama Mithani (PPP) and Zareen Majid (MQM) also took up the issue of rising KESC tariffs and increase in load-shedding during Thursday’s session.

Ms Mithani said the government was attempting to provide relief to the people, but the KESC was increasing tariffs and the number of hours of load-shedding, instead of improving its performance.

Zareen Majid said that the KESC was once again raising tariffs by Rs0.80 per unit for domestic customers and Re1 for industrial consumers. She said the lives of citizens were being made miserable by inflated bills, and the installation of faulty meters by the KESC.

Humera Alwani (PPP) through her point of order drew the attention of the house towards the ongoing theft of precious historical heritage of Sindh from the historical sites of Makli graveyard, Moenjodaro, Kot Diji, etc. She demanded that the government take the necessary measures to safeguard historical relics.

She also mentioned that some 140 educational institutions and Basic Health Units buildings and government buildings were under the use of law enforcement agencies.

Dr Ahmad Shah referred to the government land protection bill and said that in Tharow Shah a hospital building and the adjoining two-acre plot was occupied by an influential area leader.

He also said a deputy nazim, after demolition of the roof of the irrigation office, had taken the material to his house.

‘Over 300 buildings in Rangers’ possession’

Law Minister Ayaz Soomro said if concrete proof was provided, the government would try to get those buildings occupied by law-enforcement agencies vacated. He said the PPP government had already vacated 90 per cent of such buildings.

Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza said that attempts were being made to destroy our cultural heritage but its protection was the responsibility of the institutions concerned, as the police could not protect each and every house. However, he said if FIRs were lodged the police would come into action.

He conceded that according to the Rangers, there were over 300 buildings including schools, dispensaries and others, in their possession. This information was provided in response to one of the questions in a previous session.

He said the Rangers had been invited to Sindh by the last government and as the government had no resources of its own to provide accommodation for them, the vacant buildings were handed over to them. He said when the government had the resources to provide them accommodation, the buildings would be vacated.

Transportation issues discussed

Begum Bilquees Mukhtar stressed the need for enforcement of the traffic laws about entry and exit time of heavy vehicles as was practised in every big city. She said the failure to implement the rules was causing traffic jams and accidents.

An MQM member also raised the issue of increased transport fares and pointed out that the last time this issue was raised, the transport minister promised on the floor of the house that by December the fares would be reduced by 50 per cent. He said fares were yet to be reduced.

The MQM MPA said people were of the opinion that the transport mafia interests were being protected. He said under the motor vehicles act, before increasing or decreasing the fares of public transport, a public hearing was mandatory.

Arif Jatoi of the NPP and Minister Murad Ali Shah also once again raised the issue of the performance of the last assembly and contested each others’ stands, finally asking the chair to go through the assembly website and inform the house of the record.

After question hour, which started at 1.15 pm, the house was adjourned at 2.15 pm till 9.30 am on Friday.