ISLAMABAD  - The government on Wednesday managed to get passed the controversial Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC) Bill, 2015 from the Senate also with the support of the PPP, the main opposition party in the house, amid allegations that the legislation was tantamount to usurping the rights of the smaller provinces.

After the house passed the bill with majority, all opposition parties in the house, including MQM, PTI and ANP staged a walkout against the passage of legislation what they said would prove an effort to put at stake the existence of the federation.

The bill will now be sent to the President for his final signatures as the National Assembly already has passed it.

However, the government offered in the Senate to address the concerns of the opposition parties on the bill and agreed over the constitution of a special committee to monitor implementation of GIDC and to see the impact of the law on different sectors.

The committee would address the anomalies related to the implementation of the bill and give its recommendations within three months and these would be binding on the government.

The objects and reasons of the bill say that it is expedient to enact a law with the name of Gas Infrastructure Development Cess for levy of cess to meet the gas demand-supply gap and generate funds for a number of gas import projects and other outstanding amounts payable.

Earlier, all the opposition parties and some on the treasury benches during a lengthy debate on the bill opposed it, saying the bill was being passed to get more tax from the smaller provinces and to use this money on the development projects of Punjab. The debate revolved around the province of Punjab with representatives of smaller provinces alleging it usurpation of their rights. The legislators of Balochistan deplored that majority of the urban areas of the province had been deprived of gas facility despite the fact that the province had been providing gas to other provinces for decades.

Mohsin Aziz of the PTI said that the bill was yet another effort to put the existence of the federation at stake. “The legislation would push the smaller provinces towards their deprivation and it would be a discrimination and disparity with them,” he said. “Please don’t do this as this would be tantamount to closing down the industry of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he said.

Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in a bid to pacify the lawmakers said that the cess being levied through this bill was already being collected for the last four years so it as wrong to say that it was additional cess being imposed. He said that the money generated trough this levy would be spent on two mega gas import projects for the development of the gas infrastructure of the country and that would benefit all the provinces. “There is no Punjab-specific provision in the legislation,” he assured the house. “Smaller provinces would be the priority of the imported gas,” he also said.

The minister also informed the house that the incumbent government had taken a decision to provide gas to all district headquarters of Balochistan by the end of its tenure. About the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, he said that over 75 per cent projects out of CPEC would not be established in Punjab.

During the debate, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan asked the government to come out clean and don’t let Punjab become a target of criticism and allegations after a large number of opposition members had alleged that the cess was being collected for Punjab. He pointed out that main portfolios of the federal cabinet were being occupied by the lawmakers from Punjab what he said seemed that the federal government had become Punjab-based government.

He also questioned the rationale behind the fact that Punjab Chief Minister accompanies Prime Minister while others are ignored. He further questioned why the government was reluctant to disclose the exact route of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor route and the exact price of imported LNG.

Ahsan advised the government to take seriously the concerns of the senators from the smaller provinces who had termed the bill a conspiracy to weaken the federation. He also said that he was supporting the bill because the last government of his party had introduced it in 2011.

Senator Shahi Syed from the ANP separately staged a walkout against the GIDC Bill, saying it was Punjab-specific legislation and that was followed by all the lawmakers of his party. Senator Usman Kakar from Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) said that all governments had ignored Balochistan and added that he would not support this bill until gas would be supplied to at least district headquarters of the province. The house also referred the Capital University of Science and Technology Bill, 2015 to the standing committee concerned. The bill was laid before the house by the government.