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ECP defends govt as opposition rejects package for farmers

ECP defends govt as opposition rejects package for farmers

ISLAMABAD: Amid opposition parties’ criticism against the recently annou­nced Rs341 billion prime minister’s package for farmers, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) came to the government’s rescue on Wednesday by observing that it would not affect local government polls in Punjab and Sindh.

“The package is not a violation of the code of conduct for the polls because it is not only for Punjab and Sindh but for farmers of entire country,” said ECP spokesman Iftikhar Raja while talking to reporters after a meeting on the issue.

Also read-Editorial: Farmers’ package

But the meeting, attended by officials of the ECP and the Planning Commission, decided that the federal and the provincial governments would not release funds for any new project or announce any package before LG polls in Sindh and Punjab.

Meanwhile, major opposition parties rejected the package for farmers and termed it a ‘pack of lies’ and gimmickry of the PML-N government aimed at influencing coming LG elections.

Asif Zardari, the PPP Co-Chairman, said the package announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday was “devoid of substance and sincerity” and aimed at hoodwinking farmers.

Mr Zardari, who is presently in Dubai, said in a statement that the package offered “too little too late” and did not specify the source of financing.

“When farmers were protesting and asking the government to rescue them from ruin, the government turned a deaf ear to them. But as soon as the schedule for LG polls was announced, it came out with a “so-called” relief package.

He said the “government of big business houses” had belatedly turned its attention to farmers in the hope of weakening the power base of opposition parties.

“The farmers have rightly been demanding adequate support price for their produce but the government has stubbornly refused to do so.”

The former president said during the PPP rule, agriculture sector witnessed a healthy boom that added to national wealth, brought relief to farmers and ushered in overall prosperity.

On the other hand, the present government had neglected agriculture sector and diverted scarce resour­ces to “visible” projects like metro bus to draw political mileage rather than to serve the interests of a largest number of people, he alleged.

He said rice growers were crying for help but the government had not yet fulfilled its promise of providing a subsidy of Rs5,000 per 40kg to them.

The PPP leader recalled that when potato prices decreased, the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto provided relief to growers by directing the government to purchase potato stocks.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Asad Omar said the prime minister had not announced anything new as the contents of the package had already been included in the federal budget for 2015-16.

“Finance Minister Ishaq Dar will have no answer if he is asked whether any new allocation has been made for the package,” he said.

He said no relief had been provided to farmers even though the cost of a bag of fertiliser had increased by Rs200 and General Sales Tax on agricultural produce had been raised from 16 per cent to 43 per cent.

The PTI leader said basic facilities which improved agriculture production were not being provided. “Water resources are fast depleting, use of fertilisers has declined because of its high prices and nobody is paying attention to agricultural research.”

PMQ leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi rejected the package and termed it a ‘jugglery of words and figures’.

Because of recent floods, he said, rice growers had suffered loss to the tune of Rs40,000 per acre, but the prime minister had announced a grant of only Rs5,000 per acre.

“It is not a package but the packing of farmers,” he said in a sarcastic tone.

The PML-Q leader said since no subsidy had been announced in the package, it would not improve the farmers’ lot.

“On the other hand, the Modi government in India has announced a $37 billion subsidy package for farmers,” he said.

Mr Elahi called for withdrawal of all taxes on agriculture produce for small farmers.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2015

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