Lahore   -   Punjab Minister for Information and Culture Fayyaz ul Hassan Chohan virtually believes in war-time austerity. His small office at Alhamra Arts Council is an austere place, devoid of grandiosity. His official residence is large, but he has to meet all his living expenses in just Rs 52,000, which he receives as his salary from the government.

In a candid interview with The Nation, Fayyaz Chohan talked about various initiatives taken by the Punjab Government in the first 100 days. He also expanded upon the PTI-led Punjab government’s austerity drive and the new culture policy which is going to be announced soon.

“Austerity begins at home. Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar has reduced the monthly expenditure of his office from Rs 5.2 million to Rs 0.9 million only. Likewise, Prime Minister Imran Khan is doing with only two servants instead of 524, normally at the disposal of a prime minister,” he said while talking about government’s austerity measures.

In line with the PTI government’s policy of zero tolerance against corruption, Chohan has taken upon himself to end the old culture of bribery from his department by ensuring transparency and merit in all financial matters. “As long as I am here, I would not allow corruption of even a penny. I do understand it is like a crusade in a society soaked in corruption, but I will fight against this menace till the last,” a firm reply came from the minister who seemed much perturbed over entrenched dishonest practices in official departments.

Chohan is very blunt in expressing his views on different subjects. Many may not like his forthright manners but he is undoubtedly energetic, and keen to help persons associated with his ministry.

“Around 6,000 families of poor artists across Punjab are being issued health insurance cards worth Rs0.4 million. Now, no artist will die lying helpless in a hospital,” he said.

The Punjab Information Minister also claimed credit for extending the sphere of health insurance cards (worth Rs0.380 million) for deserving persons from 10 to 17 districts in the first 100 days. “These cards will also cover the burial expenses of the dead,” he said, adding that provincial health department will further extend this scheme to 36 districts by the year 2020.

Highlighting the performance of Punjab government, Chohan also mentioned government’s policies on labour, agriculture, industry and water – all framed in a short span of 100 days. “This sets the direction of our government for the next five years,” he averred.

A software engineer by profession, the Information Minister is fond of participating in cultural activities, always out attending events, visiting art galleries and theatres. But this also comes under his obligation as minister for culture.

During the course of the interview, Chohan also spoke about his plans to bring about radical changes in his department. Highlighting the issue of vulgarity in stage dramas, he vowed to bring decency in the script, costume and the dances so that they could be watched by the families.

“Any dance step and dress which is lascivious comes under the definition of vulgarity,” he responded when asked about an agreed definition of vulgarity. In this connection, the minister also assumed that dances performed by ladies at family weddings were not “vulgar” by any definition. 

In a drastic step, the Information Minister has stopped the late-night shows at Alhamra Halls. The stage dramas are now staged from 8 pm to 10 pm instead of 11 pm to 1 am. He has also stopped the old practice of advance bookings (Up to four years) of Alhamra Halls to end monopoly of certain groups.

The Information Minister also shared with The Nation, new initiatives his department had taken for promotion of local culture and the hidden talent in the youth. In this regard, he specifically mentioned the Voice of Punjab event starting from February 16 across the province. Under this programme, he said, special teams formed by the government will visit small towns to hunt singing talent among the youth who have no access to the modern means of communication. The selected singers will be given prizes amounting to Rs1 million, Rs0.7 million and Rs0.5 million for first, second and third positions, respectively.

Fayyaz Chohan also shared his plan regarding the establishment of the Alhamra College of Performing Arts in Lahore. To be affiliated with the Punjab University, this institute will teach various disciplines in performing arts to students under a four- year degree programme. He also spoke about constitution of Film Authority Board for issuance of all NOCs for making of a film through one-window operation.

Chohan was elected to the Punjab Assembly for the first time in 2002 on the platform of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) from Rawalpindi. Luck did not favour him in 2008 but he returned to the provincial assembly again in 2018 general elections, this time on the ticket of the PTI. A historic win for the man himself, and the party — and a determination to go down in history.