LAHORE - In the absence of an effective Opposition in Punjab Assembly, members from the ruling PML-N took it upon themselves to play this role on Monday.

Not a single member from the opposition side was present in the House when the Acting Speaker Sher Ali Gorchani resumed the sitting after two-day break. Khadeja Omer of PML-Q later joined the proceedings but she also left the house soon after conclusion of the question hour.   

The treasury members grilled Agriculture Minister, Dr Farrukh Javid during the question hour expressing dissatisfaction over the performance of his department. A treasury member, Mian Tahir even went to the extent of saying that he had to grease the palm to procure a lazier land leveler machine. “An agriculture department official accepted one hundred thousand rupees (Rs.100,000) as bribe from me for release of the leveler machine”, he declared on the Assembly flour, adding that tractors and agriculture implements were not being distributed among the farmers on merit.  

The minister, however, insisted that this was not the case. He asked the member to lodge a written complaint against the concerned official to conduct inquiry into the matter. The minister also said that agriculture department had nothing to do with provision of land levelers to the farmers as it was being supplied by a private firm. The government’s involvement in this matter was only to the extent of providing subsidy on this implement, he told the house.  

The Acting Speaker Sher Ali Gorchani also supported minister’s claim that agriculture implements were being supplied to the farmers purely on merit. In order to satisfy the agitating member, the Acting Speaker asked the minister to probe the matter and inform the house about the factual position.

Another treasury member Arshad Malik wanted the minister to respond to his supplementary question regarding some irregularities in the grain market in Sahiwal district. He alleged that people doing business at old market had not been given preference for allotment of land at the newly established grain market. He informed the house that favoritism was at play as a selected few were getting more than one shop, up to seven in some case, against one license.

The minister replied that provincial agriculture department was not involved in the allotment of land for setting up of shops at the grain market as it was the domain of the DCO concerned. The Acting Speaker directed the minister to hold inquiry to ascertain veracity of the allegations.  

Mian Tariq Mehmood of the ruling PML-N was not satisfied with the performance of agriculture department in general and the poor state of affairs at the fruit market in Gujrat district in particular. He asked the minister if there was any plan in the pipeline to shift the market outside the main town. This time, the minister admitted on Assembly floor that conditions at the said market were not good and the authorities were having trouble maintaining a certain level of cleanliness there. He said the market was located at a congested locality at a small piece of land measuring three kanal only. He said government was willing to shift the market to some other place provided the honorable member identified a suitable site for this.  

The minister stunned the house when he, in response to a question by opposition’s Khadeja Omer, revealed that 899 different posts were lying vacant at the Ayub Agriculture Research Institute, Failsalabad, but the department was achieving the set targets despite financial constraints. “Ofcourse, we are having problems due to shortage of manpower, but agriculture department is achieving its targets quite successfully”, he said. He further stated that these posts were lying vacant for the last over seven years due to ban on recruitment. The department has now moved a summary to the Punjab chief minister to lift the ban on recruitment, he added.