LAHORE - The treasury benches in the Punjab Assembly on Saturday showered praises on the chief minister for presenting an unprecedented pro-poor budget under the difficult economic situation.

Most of the members were prone more to greet Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif on their assuming the highest offices at the Centre and in the province. They also eulogised the Punjab government projects in the last tenure instead of critically evaluating the budget. They, however, presented many positive suggestions on the budget. A number of speakers opposed tax on agriculture income.

The six-hour proceedings of the session for general debate on the budget 2013-14 were first presided over by Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan and then by Deputy Speaker Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani.

The treasury frustrated three attempts of the opposition to get the session postponed on the plea of incomplete quorum. At the outset, the opposition objected to the absence of the finance minister who, later, joined the session. However, a lamentable feature was that no opposition member was present during the last two hours of the session.

Treasury member Sardar Khalid Mahmood Ghuari addressed the house in Saraiki, reminding the government of the resolutions passed by the assembly in the last PML-N tenure for the creation of South Punjab province. Another treasury member, Sibtain Raza Khan demanded increase in the funds for South Punjab from 32 per cent to 40 per cent so that deprivation of the people could be removed. He also called for waiving tax on agriculture equipment and fertilizers and exempting the farmers from the income tax.

Opening the debate on budget, PTI’s Dr Murad Ross criticised Rs one billion allocation for laptops in the face of hundreds of primary schools functioning without basic facilities. He demanded shifting of the laptop funds to those schools. He also laid stress on improving efficiency of the police and holding incompetent officials accountable. He called for making end to the patwari culture a reality unlike the past, saying it remained only a rhetoric of the Punjab government. He demanded running of education buses in Punjab.

Zaheeruddin Khan of PTI found allocation of Rs13 billion for agri sector quite insufficient when the prices of the agri equipment, fertilizers, seeds and pesticides were skyrocketing. He opposed tax on 2-kanal houses, describing imposition of this levy in the purview of local government and not the excise department.

Javed Akhtar of PTI called for utilizing the ADP funds to end the energy crisis which, he added, had ruined the economy of the province and created rampant unemployment. Ahmad Shah Khagga of PML-Q opposed tax on five-marla houses.

Treasury members, Nasim Lodhi, Muhammad Islam, Shaukat Ali Chattha, Nahid Noor, Amjad Ali Warriach, Mian Munir, Khalid Ch, Ch Muhammad Ashraf, Ch Muhamoodul Hassan, Faizan Gill, Rashida Yaqoob, Lubna Rehan, Iram Hassan, Malik Ahmad Saeed, Ch Bilal Ashraf Warraich, Ahmad Khan Baloch, Farah Maqbool, Haji Muhammad Ilyas Ansari, Naeem Safdar Ansari, Muhammad Kashif, Syed Mahfooz Mashahdi, Najma Begum, Anees Qureshi, Arshad Khan Lodhi, Shakeel Awan, and Ch Ikram spoke on the budget. They said given the difficult situation, this was the best budget. They argued Pakistan came under immense burden of foreign loans during the Musharraf and PPP governments which exposed the country to serious challenges. They said by slashing the CM Secretariat funds and abolishing discretionary funds of ministers, the budget had laid foundation for austerity which was a dire need of the hour to save money for the public wellbeing.

While appreciating Danish schools project as a means to raise quality leadership for the lower stratum of the society, they also supported levy of tax on 2-kanal houses on the basis of land values and localities. Many called for taking further steps to improve the agri sector by bringing incentives therein and criticised the opposition demand for making a separate allocation for Pothohar area as a voice to further divide Punjab, which was unaffordable.

Treasury MPA Sheikh Allau-ud-Din told the Assembly that provincial or federal governments have not imposed any new tax as yet but the prices in the markets of commodities have been increased without any justification. He asked the finance minister to take notice of the issue and instruct the DCOs of the province to activate district price committees against those who were overcharging.