Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, unveiled major budget changes in the National Assembly on Thursday, including a Rs20 billion farm subsidy fund, withdrawal or reduction of some duties and a higher raise in the salary of government employees. However, this session pertaining to a general discussion on the budget for 2015-16, saw a great opposition walkout. Dar announced the total acceptance of 20 and partial acceptance of 15 of the 92 non-binding recommendations made by the Senate on Wednesday. 66 proposals had been accepted in principle, while implementation of remainder 36 proposals was not immediately possible.

Dar resisted claims of the budget being pro-rich and anti-poor, quoting examples of an increased allocation for the Benazir Income Support Programme to Rs102 billion from Rs97 billion, expansion of Baitul Maal charity and a crop insurance scheme, claiming it to be actually pro-poor. However, this did not stop the opposition from giving their opinions, where shouts of ‘pre-planned’ erupted from PTI benches, as the speaker made way for his deputy, followed by sympathy walkouts by the main opposition Pakistan People’s Party and the PTI-allied Jamaat-i-Islami.

Is the opposition rightfully criticizing this new budget, even with these changes of making it a little ‘pro-people’? The opposition members in Punjab Assembly have critiqued the PML-N government for allegedly ignoring key sectors like health and education. What is working in their favor is that it is actually true, that these areas that need help desperately, have been foregone for a Metro Bus Projects which will only benefit people of Rawalpindi. Even if there is no objection to the government wanting to launch its ‘metro’ projects, what is necessary is that sectors of grave importance should always be given preference, rather than ignored. The people cannot be distracted with this so-called tangible developments. For health and education to be treated on merit, the government should adopt international standards while presenting the budget. Rather than providing relief to existing compliant taxpayers; it has relied again on increasing the indirect taxes such as GST, Income Tax and FED across the board, instead of taking effective steps to broaden the tax base. Even with new changes, that are magnanimously displayed to counter criticisms of the budget being anti-poor , the government still has to go a long way, until it can be seen as leaders who put the needs of their people first.