A resolution against the hike in gas prices was tabled out-of-turn during the Punjab Assembly session on Wednesday, following a heated debate between the law minister and the leader of opposition. When it was turned down, led by Leader of Opposition Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed, the opposition members chanted slogans against the government and thumped desks.
Rasheed had submitted the resolution on Tuesday, demanding that the government lower gas prices.
Relying on the speaker’s assurance that it would be taken up out-of-turn, Rasheed moved the resolution on Wednesday.
Rasheed said the notified price hike would result in a 63 per cent increase in prices of agricultural products. He said average household expenditure would rise by 13 per cent.
He said the opposition parties would stage protest demonstrations if the demand was not addressed.
Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the higher gas prices would affect the fertiliser industry but not domestic consumers. He said the fertiliser industry had been receiving gas on subsidised rates but had failed to provide relief to farmers.
“The new gas prices for the fertiliser industry will not impact farmers,” he said. He added that the prices of their products were fixed.
Sanaullah said he had not received feedback from the concerned department. His request to hold off discussion on the issue was rejected by the opposition. Sanaullah then criticised the opposition members and accused them of misrepresentation.
“People should be aware of those who are trying to fool them and of the fools,” he said.
The session had started with a delay of 90 minutes. It was adjourned for a recess minutes later when MPA Mian Tariq Mahmood pointed out that the schools secretary was not present for the question hour.
The speaker reprimanded Education Minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan, saying under rules, the presence of secretaries was mandatory for the question hour.
Khan initially said that the secretary was in Jhang on official duties. When the speaker persisted, he said the secretary would reach the Assembly in 15 minutes. When the session resumed after the break, MPA Ahmed Khan Bhachar remarked to the secretary, “I am impressed with your efficiency. You managed to return from Jhang in 15 minutes.”
The education minister was also criticised for failing to enforce standards and checking undesirable practices at private schools.
Opposition member Sardar Shahabud Din expressed dissatisfaction with answers to two of his questions. “Has the minister ever visited Layyah?” he said.
MPA Bao Akhter quizzed Khan over the revision of school syllabus.
The minister said revision of textbooks was being conducted in a phase manner. He said syllabus of books for grades two to five was being revised.
MPA Nighat Sheikh asked why only one out of the 1,000 unregistered schools had been sealed. The minister said these schools had been given more time to comply with the department’s orders. Several lawmakers said the government was patronising private schools instead of improving public schools. Khan denied this.
“Public schools are being merged while private schools are allowed to operate from small buildings and charge high fees,” said MPA Aleem Shah. The minister replied that a Private Schools Regulatory Authority Bill would be presented in the House soon.
“This will help categorise private schools and allow for penalties to be imposed for those not meeting the required standards,” he said.
The opposition members chanted slogans when the education minister took his leave without responding to MPA Murad Raas’s query on the delay in construction of a school in his constituency.
The House faced another delay during the vote on extension of two ordinances, Punjab Safe Cities Authority Ordinance 2015 and the Punjab Forest (Amendment) Ordinance 2015. Lawmakers had to wait for members to complete quorum. The opposition benches thumped desks and jeered at the treasury benches for the delay, later opposing both motions.
Lawmakers’ salaries was taken up briefly after Dr Farzana Nazeer was allowed to speak by the chair.
The speaker called a meeting of the parliamentary leaders on Thursday (today) to decide on the matter.
The session was adjourned till Thursday morning. Amendments to the Punjab Local Government Bill 2015 will be taken up in the next session.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2015.