Though meant to debate foreign policy recommendations by a parliamentary panel, Monday’s resumption of the joint session of Parliament was dominated by the return of the power crisis across the country and a host of other issues, such as the acid attack victim who committed suicide recently.
“We have gathered here to discuss a very important issue (review Pak-US relations) but cannot overlook what is happening in the streets due to power outages,” Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said while pointing out protests across the country in his opening remarks.
“Both the president and prime minister are on foreign tours, which reflects the level of attention our rulers pay to this joint session of Parliament,” he said, censuring the government.
Nisar warned the government that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) would join the masses in the streets if the power crisis was not resolved in next 48 hours.
The issue segued, expectedly, into an exchange of blame between the treasury and opposition.
“Instead of wasting billions on the Sasti Roti (food programme), the Punjab government [run by PML-N] should have spent the money on installing power plants which is allowed under the 18th Constitutional Amendment,” said the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)’s chief whip Khursheed Shah.
“I invite the opposition to come (for a debate) and determine the real culprit behind the power crisis and who cancelled IPPs and the Thar coal projects,” Shah said.
Provoked by the criticism, Abid Sher Ali, Shakeel Awan and Ahsan Iqbal from the PML-N rose from their seats and started chanting slogans against the government.
National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza, who was presiding over the session, also weighed in an attempt to defuse the situation, saying that load-shedding was a countrywide phenomena and not restricted to one province. She proposed that the government and the treasury sit together if a debate on the issue has to be done.
Leader of the Opposition in the upper house Senator Ishaq Dar said that there should be transparency and equal distribution of electricity among the provinces – stressing that Punjab was being discriminated against in this regard.
Minister for Water and Power Syed Naveed Qamar was not about to be a silent spectator, and suggested to the opposition that, instead the politicising the issue, they should sit with the government suggest implementable formulas and suggestions to overcome the problem. “We want to do what is best for the country but this demand-supply gap cannot be bridged through protests,” he added.
On the demand of the opposition, the minister announced that the five-month accumulated surcharge for industrial consumers would be suspended till a final decision is reached regard its collection mechanism. He said that industrial users should pay their normal monthly bill until then.
Acid attack victims
There was, however, no division in another topic vociferously discussed during Monday’s joint session. Parliamentarians across party lines urged the government to take ‘legal action’ against the man accused of throwing acid on Fakhra Younus. Younus committed suicide after the law of the land was unable to punish her alleged attacker, Bilal Khar, the son of former Punjab governor Mustafa Khar.
The younger Khar allegedly threw acid on Younus, his then-wife, after a marital dispute some 12 years ago. He has continually denied the charge. PPP’s Khurshid Shah urged the Punjab government to constitute a committee to conduct a fair inquiry into the case.
“There should be a fair trial of the person who threw acid on Fakhra,” demanded the PPP leader, saying, “We will support the Punjab government’s efforts to nab the accused. Let’s stand united to get justice for acid victims.”
MQM parliamentary leader Haider Abbas Rizvi asked for a review of the punishment for acid crime perpetrators and recommended that the maximum penalty should include capital punishment if the lawmakers are in agreement.
In fact, MNA Kashmala Tariq later took the matter a step further, submitting a resolution to the office of the speaker for reopening the case. The resolution also sought the case be referred to the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights for a probe. The House may take up the resolution today (Tuesday).
To complete the diverse discussion during Monday’s session, Haji Adeel from the Awami National Party (ANP) felicitated Bangladesh on its national day, and said wrong policies compelled them to go for an independent state, which, he said, is now thriving.
Later, the speaker, Haider Abbas Rizvi and Zahid Khan invited the attention of the interior minister to the law and order situation of Karachi, particularly threatening letters and messages received by Sindh Assembly members.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2012.
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