LAHORE - In a strange turn of events, the PML-N-led government in Punjab, that until a couple of days back was scornful of the very existence of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly, seemed keen on having it in the House on Saturday.

It is a tradition in the Assembly that the very first reaction to the provincial budget comes from the Opposition after it is presented in the House. The Opposition leader is the one who kicks off the budget debate. A heated discussion then follows on the pros and cons of the budget involving the two sides and continues for at least four days.

At the outset, Panel of Chairman Khalil Tahir Sindhu invited Sibtain Khan, the Opposition Leader, to set the ball rolling knowing full well that he was not present in the House. But, perhaps, he was bound by the Assembly rules of procedure to do so. Not getting any response to his call from the Opposition benches, he then declared that the Opposition Leader had been contacted and he would soon be here to initiate the debate.

As the House was supposed to wait for the Opposition Leader, the presiding chairman adjourned the House for 15 minutes. But he did not turn up within the given time as being anticipated by many in the Assembly. When the House resumed its proceedings after a short break, it was decided that parliamentary leader of Rah-e-Haq Party Mohammad Moavia should perform the ritual. It was an embarrassing moment for the Treasury after having been able to present the budget with the help of the Punjab governor.

Taking place against this background, the Saturday’s general debate in Punjab Assembly on the annual budget ended up being a lackluster exercise in the absence of the Opposition which is boycotting the budget session called by the governor.

“Mr. Chairman, we have to give relief to as many people as possible. Agricultural land in Punjab is rapidly declining and population is increasing. The government should formulate effective policy to save fertile agricultural land to avoid future difficulties”, Moavia told the chair as he tried to fit himself in the opposition leader’s role. Mr Moavia had voted for Hamza Shahbaz in the chief minister’s election in April this year.

As per tradition, chair calls opp leader to kick-start budget debate, fully knowing of his absence in house

Sheikh Allauddin of the PML-N in his budget speech complained that his Assembly business had been damaged in the last three-and-half years. “Mr. Chairman, we need to see why this was done to me”, he uttered. Alauddin then drew the chair’s attention towards the sorry state of affairs at the DHQ and THQ hospitals that were sending their patients to Lahore for lack of treatment facilities there. He also asked the government to investigate an alleged fraud in the health card scheme initiated by the previous govt. The PML-N legislator suggested that Assembly members should forgo all their privileges including petrol allowance.

Makhdoom Usman of the PPP raised the issue of unsettled areas which needed to be brought into the national mainstream. He also stressed that local bodies system needs to be completely restored.

Also, Hamza Shahbaz received congratulations from the Assembly members for presenting a pro-poor budget.

It may be recalled here that ever since the resignation by the former Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar on April 1 this year, a plethora of events and controversies have unfolded questioning the legality and constitutional status of everything which followed his exit. There remains a question mark even on his own resignation which was not addressed to the Punjab governor.

All the later events which followed afterwards starting from the election of a new chief minister, his oath taking and the cabinet formation were not without controversy. The appointment of a new Punjab governor was also no exception.

The most recent disagreement between the Opposition and the government started over the presentation of the provincial budget last week. This continues till date as the Punjab Assembly starts budget debate in the Assembly.