Karachi -As the general discussion on budget for fiscal year 2020-21 began in the Sindh Assembly on Saturday, the treasury members termed it “people friendly” in ongoing COVID-19 pandemic whereas the opposition members came down hard on the provincial government for “corruption and poor governance.”

Starting the debate, ruling Pakistan Peoples Party’s lawmaker Dr Sohrab Sarki said that his party presented people-friendly budget despite unprecedented situation. He said that the salaries of the provincial government employees were raised by 10 percent in the budget. “We have allocated around Rs 50 billion for Covid-19 related relief package,” he added.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan member Rashid Khilji rejected the provincial budget and said it was based on ‘biasness’ of the PPP towards urban areas of the province. He said that the provincial government had failed to complete several schemes on time and added that no one knew when these schemes would see the light of the day.

Khilji said that the scheme of establishing industrial zone in Larkana was conceived several years ago and there was no sign of its completion in near future. Similarly, water supply scheme for Sehwan and other local government projects in Hyderabad were not completed so far.

“Hyderabad is the second largest city of the province and it faces multiple civic and municipal issued including water shortage, collapsed sewerage system and dilapidated roads,” he lamented.

During his debate on the budget, the MQM-P member drew the attention of Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani towards the empty benches of treasury and said only one minister and a few treasure members were present in the house.

Leader of Opposition Firdous Shamim Naqvi asked how many ministers were present in the house and said that they should have attended the session through video link.

The opposition leader announced that they were staging a symbolic walkout until the ministers attended the proceedings, though the speaker told him that the secretaries of the ministers were present in the house.

The visibly irked speaker said that this behavior of the opposition members was not acceptable and warned that he would be left with no option but to conduct the virtual session if such disturbances by the opposition members continued.

As the opposition members started to leave the house to stage a symbolic walkout, Energy Minister Imtiaz Shaikh said that the opposition was not actually interested in budget debate. He also requested the speaker to conduct virtual session if the opposition members did not mend their ways.

PPP lawmaker Ghanwar Khan Asran said that the PPP-led provincial government gave a people-friendly budget as no new tax was introduced in it.

Lauding the Chief Minister and his team for a “balanced” budget he said that the health budget was substantially increased by 16 percent in view of the unprecedented situation due to coronavirus pandemic.

Like his other party lawmakers, he also came down hard on the federal government for its policies he said the PTI-led federal government presented IMF-directed budget. Accusing the centre for political victimization, he said that former President Asif Ali Zardari, PPP’s Faryal Talpur, Syed Khursheed Shah, Sharjeel Inam Memon and others were arrested in fabricated cases.

While debating on budget, PTI lawmaker Raja Azhar Khan said that there was no new scheme for food department in the budget for fiscal year 2020-21. PPP government did nothing for Karachi, adding that it would see consequences of the performance in the local bodies’ elections.

While defending the ruling party, PPP Surrendra Vallasi congratulated the Chief Minister and his team for presenting this pro-people budget during these difficult times. “GDP is going in minus for the first time due to incompetence of federal government,” he added.

Grand Democratic Alliance’s member Abdur Razzaque Rahimoon said that the coronavirus was a global pandemic, but Sindh was facing many other issues.

The MPA from Thar said that the provincial government had failed to help cater to the needs of people in Tharparkar region of the province where shortage of food, water and health facilities still continued.

He said that over 700 RO plants were claimed to have been installed in Thar but they didn’t exist in real. He said that 300 out of 700 RO plants were never installed and all the money was embezzled. He said that the contract of all RO plants was given to one company and the matter should be investigated by the National Accountability Bureau. PPP lawmaker Seemia Soomro said that the PPP had rejected the federal budget.

While responding to the queries of PPP, MQM-P MPA Adeel Shahzad said that provincial government should answer where it spent Rs 123 billion health budget of ongoing fiscal year. He said there was only one hospital to cater Orangi Town’s population of three million that too was functioning without a ventilator and medicines. Coming down hard on the provincial government for allocating ‘nominal’ amount for Karachi’s uplift, he said that Rs 1.94 billion was earmarked for the mega projects of the city out of over Rs 1.2 trillion budget.

Sharmila Farooqui of the PPP said that this was not a developmental budget but a survival one as people have to survive with the COVID-19 pandemic. “Agriculture sector has been hit hard by the locusts as the federal government was unable to tackle the issue despite the fact that the matter was duly raised by former President Asif Ali Zardari last year,” she added.

The GDA’s Dr Rafiq Bhanban, PPP’s Hina Dastagir, Taj Muhammad Mallah and Mir Allah Bakhsh Talpur, PTI’s Dr Imran Ali Shah, Adeeba Hassan and Arsalan Taj Ghuman also spoke before the house was adjourned till Monday at 12 noon.