A treasury member told the Provincial Assembly on Monday corruption was rampant in the Agriculture Department. An irate agriculture minister responded that he would resign if the MPA could prove his allegations.
“I paid a Rs100,000 bribe to a department official to acquire a laser land leveller,” Mian Tahir told the House.
Agriculture Minister Farrukh Javed denied the allegations saying that he was disappointed to hear them. “I am not unaware of what goes on in my department… I will resign if the allegations are proved.”
Deputy Speaker Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani, who chaired the session, directed the minister to probe the matter and submit a report at the next session.
The session had started with a 90-minute delay with less than 40 members in attendance. It featured a long-delayed debate on the grievances of sugarcane growers.
An amendment to the Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance 1981 proposing to raise job quota for the disabled from two per cent to three per cent was also introduced.
The proceedings were affected by a protest demonstration mounted by the visually challenged persons, first in front of the assembly and later on the premises. The protest continued until quite late.
The minister said the agriculture sector was contributing 21 per cent to the GDP. He said although there had been bumper crops for several years, farmers had failed to benefit from those owing to international prices that were beyond the control of the government.
He said 30,000 tonnes of potatoes had been exported this year to the UAE, Malaysia, Russia and Sri Lanka. Farmers had been given subsidies on fuel and electricity, he said.
“The government will provide 20,000 biogas-run tube-wells to farmers.”
Sheikh Alauddin said grievances of sugarcane growers could not be mitigated until the monopoly of sugar mill owners was tackled.
“The Agriculture Department performs only on paper,” said Malik Javed Awan. Ramesh Singh criticised the government for importing vegetables from India despite its claim of producing bumper crops.
“I am not hesitant to acknowledge the poor governance… there has been no improvement in our governance system. It has turned cancerous for which we need a surgery,” said Waris Kallu.
He said both food and agriculture ministers were helpless. “There is an urgent need for reforms.”
Labour and food ministers expressed their reservations over the absence of opposition members during the debate.
Food Minister Bilal Yasin said the chief minister had taken notice of sugarcane prices and had directed the cane commissioner to ensure that mill owners purchased the crop for Rs180 per maund.
Of the nearly Rs100 billion sugarcane payments due in 2014-2015, 85 per cent have been made with 99 per cent of those made for the year 2013-2014.
“More than 80 per cent of the growers have been paid for the current season.” He said out of the five sugar mills that had defaulted on payments, the government had seized control of one and seized inventories at two. The session was later adjourned until Tuesday morning.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2015.