ISLAMABAD            -          The treasury and opposition lawmakers, alike, on Monday in the Senate criticised the local car industry for its failure to maintain safety standards.

The lawmakers also held response the industry for sky rocketing prices of new vehicles in the country as compared to rest of the world. They said that it used to import auto parts only to assemble vehicles though it was bound to manufacture the same locally. They also called it a main reason for the increasing prices.

However, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati while winding up the debate “on the situation arising out of decline in sale of cars and other vehicles in the country” informed the house that new rules were being put in place to punish manufacturers of unsafe cars. “A policy draft in this connection is pending before the cabinet,” he said adding that the government’s basic policy was to ensure safety.

He said those companies would be held responsible for an accident claiming lives, if the air bags of vehicle didn’t open and other standard safety safeguards were not found up to recognised standards. “They will have to pay multi-million rupees in fine”, he remarked.

He said under the new auto policy, 18 new car manufacturing plants had been set up, and five of which were at production stage now.

He, however, pointed out that the demand and supply determined the market prices and the government could not fix these. The government can only ensure fair competition, he added.

The minister agreed that the companies had been given concession of zero tax on import of machinery, but were assembling cars in the name of manufacturing. He further said that the government under the principle of deletion would move forward for manufacturing of vehicles locally instead of their assembling here in the country.

Later, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sajrani referred the matter to the committee concerned on the request of minister to discuss loopholes, “if any” in the existing auto policy.

Earlier, speaking on her motion, PML-N Senator Kalsoom Perveen brought attention of the house towards increasing prices of vehicles causing a plunge in their sales and unemployment in the auto sector.

MQM Senator Ateeq Ahmad Shaikh said a cartel had been formed in auto sector and poor quality vehicles were being assembled in the country. He said these companies kept on increasing prices without any check.

PTI Senator Nauman Wazir said it was strange that Pakistan was producing the most inexpensive tractors but at the same time the locally manufactured cars were the most expensive. Describing the reason, he said most of the expensive parts of the cars were imported to assemble these locally. He said that the manufacturers were actually misusing a government’s SRO (Statutory Regulatory Order) which says that they could import the parts and assemble the vehicle by making 30 percent value addition to these parts.

He said a number of incidents had been reported in which the air bags did not open in case of accidents. He said manufacturers in Pakistan don’t conduct crash tests. His party colleague Senator Mohsin Aziz also endorsed him and said that the companies were only assembling cars here despite getting relief on duty.

PPP Senator Rehman Malik proposed establishment of price and quality control authority to reduce prices and maintain quality of locally manufactured cars.

PML-N Senator Lt-Gen (retd) Abdul Qayyum proposed a constitutional amendment bill in the house that gives a way forward in case of deadlock on appointment of chief election commissioner (CEC) and members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The bill says that the matter of appointment of CEC and ECP members will stand referred to the Supreme Court if the parliamentary committee on their appointment fails to confirm a name.

He said at present, the constitution was silent on the way forward if deadlock prevailed in the parliamentary panel having equal representation of government and opposition, as presently it was faced with a similar situation. He pointed out the law needed to be amended to make sure that there was no void and the appointment of successors was made before retirement of incumbents.

Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati agreed to the contention of the bill but opposed the idea of referring the matter to the Supreme Court for a decision. “There must be some clearly defined way forward.” The bill was referred to the standing committee concerned.

The house passed the Islamabad Community Integration Bill, moved by PML-N Senator Rana Maqbool Ahmad, aimed at utilising potential of the community to address difficulties of the people at local level.

The lawmakers also urged the federal government and its National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to extend its help in rescue and relief operations following heavy snow fall and rains that have caused havoc in Balochistan.

On weekend, heavy snowfall and rains claimed at least 14 lives in different parts of province and also caused suspension of roads and air link of the country’s largest province with rest of the country.

National Party Senator Mir Kabir Sahi speaking on the issue said that the recent rains and snowfall during last three days had suspended roads and air link of Balochistan from the entire country. He said that Provincial Disaster Management Authority (MDMA) had failed to face such disaster some three years before and NDMA and federal government should come forward to help the province.

“The threat is that people stranded in far off hilly areas of the province would die due to sever cold, outbreak of diseases and shortage of food,” he said. He criticised NDMA and questioned what its purpose was.

Senator Kalsoom Perveen from Balchistan informed the chair that Quetta, the provincial headquarters, was almost facing shutdown and roofs of many houses had caved in and people were facing difficulties for burial of dead bodies.

She requested the chair to ask NDMA and other authorities to clear roads from snowfall. She said that an emergency had been declared in the province adding that the gas and electricity load shedding were adding to the miseries of the people there. She also criticised NDMA over its “performance” and urged the chair that there was need to take steps on emergency basis.

Another Balochistan Senator Ms Sana Jamali said that the people in the province have been facing snowfall disaster for the last three days but not a single federal minister has given a statement. “We are really upset with this attitude,” she said.  She also said the province was facing gas shortage and urged the chair that a quick response was needed.