Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has given the go-ahead for taking the top election supervisory body to court over its decision to stay implementation of certain components of the multibillion-rupee Kissan package.
On September 15, Premier Nawaz had announced the 341-billion-rupee bailout package for farmers in a bid to shield them from the financial impact of the persistent drop in agricultural commodity prices.
Fifteen days later, however, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) deferred execution of some parts of the package in a bid to prevent the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) from a potential unfair advantage in the upcoming local government polls.
On Tuesday, the premier chaired a meeting to discuss the issues of the agricultural sector, providing assistance to farmers and implementation of the Kissan package. During the huddle, Nawaz directed Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Salman Aslam Butt to file a petition in the Supreme Court against the ECP’s decision, according to a statement issued by the PM House.
The meeting was also attended by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, PM’s Special Assistant on Law Ashtar Ausaf Ali and other senior officers. During his stay in Lahore, the premier was briefed by his advisers about the repercussions of ECP’s decision on PML-N’s canvassing for the LG polls in Punjab, sources told The Express Tribune.
They said the advisers also told Nawaz that peasants’ protests across the province against the ECP decision and the government were incited by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
The PML-N, according to sources, is worried that if the ECP decision is upheld by the top court, then the ruling party could lose its grip on the rural areas, particularly in central Punjab, where the party has enjoyed overwhelming victories.
They said the peasants of central Punjab were hit the worst by low prices of rice crop in the past three years and had almost lost faith in the PML-N government. While the Kissan package promised relief to the farmers, the ECP decision seems to have dampened their spirits, added sources.
Finance Minister Dar told the meeting that the provisions of the bailout package were already part of this fiscal’s budget.
Premier Nawaz said the relief package is for the farmers of the entire country and not restricted to any specific region. “It is the right of all the farmers of the country.”
He said the farmer community throughout Pakistan is suffering because of non-implementation of the package, adding that the government is working to protect the peasants’ rights without any political or regional bias.
The prime minister also approved, in principle, the setting up of an agricultural research endowment fund for enhancing research on agriculture to maximise produce.
Farmers recently threatened to disrupt the LG elections until the government restores the package and fulfils its promise of a fertiliser subsidy.
“We shall not allow the LG polls to take place,” Pakistan Kissan Ittehad President Khalid Mehmood Khokhar told a news conference in Islamabad. “The country will suffer if the government does not pay attention to the agricultural sector.”
On September 30, ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob had said that certain parts of the Kissan package were in violation of the code of conduct for elections: the government cannot launch any development scheme in the areas where the schedule of polling has been announced.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2015.