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Treasury, opposition almost come to blows in Senate.

Byline: Iftikhar A. KhanUpdated

ISLAMABAD -- The Senate on Tuesday witnessed an unusual scene when a ruling PTI lawmaker and a PML-N senator, whose remarks against the prime minister had offended the former, came close to blows, prompting the sergeants-at-arms to intervene.

All hell broke loose when PML-N parliamentary leader in the Senate Mushahidullah Khan said Prime Minister Imran Khan used to travel to Jeddah, London and Jati Umra to seek funds from the Sharif brothers for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital (SKMT). He alleged that five to 10 per cent of the amount received was deposited in the accounts of the SKMT and the rest was 'devoured by the PTI leader'.

PTI lawmakers Faisal Javed and Mohsin Aziz rose to their feet in protest and Mr Javed and Mushahidullah had a heated argument. When Mr Javed sought an apology for the remarks uttered by the PML-N lawmaker and expunged by the chair, Mushahidullah retorted by using a pejorative term and refused to tender an apology.

Unedifying scene witnessed after PML-N senator's allegations against Imran drew PTI lawmaker's wrath

This infuriated Mr Javed who tried to head towards MushahidAullah Khan. The sergeants-at-arms had to intervene and some members from both sides of the aisle - including leader of the house in the Senate Shibli Faraz, opposition leader Raja Zafarul Haq, Raza Rabbani, Kabir Shahi and Javed Abbasi - also tried to placate the angry PTI lawmaker.

Even after the scene was over, the ruling party's members kept on interrupting Mushahidullah's speech on wheat crisis and Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani asked them to sit down and wait for their turn. 'Let him complete his speech and I will allow you to speak,' Mr Sanjrani told the PTI's Mohsin Aziz.

Mushahidullah warned that if order in the house was disrupted by the ruling party, nobody from the treasury benches would be able to speak. 'Even the prime minister would not be allowed to speak in the house,' he threatened.

The PML-N parliamentary leader asked the government to share the Federal Investigation Agency's (FIA) report on wheat and sugar crises with the house. He said the whole world knew who was behind all this, but the report 'is being hidden' from the parliament. He claimed that three individuals, including a woman, had been named in the report prepared by the FIA team led by Wajid Zia, the government's own appointee.

He said slogans of 'thief, thief' had echoed in a stadium in the presence of a minister who was said to have made billions out of the sugar crisis.

The PML-N senator said the names of beneficiaries of 400 per cent increase in prices of medicines were also known to all.

The whole discussion had started after Chairman of the Senate's standing committee on national food security Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah presented a report on wheat flour crisis which was adopted by the house.

Muzaffar Shah while explaining the reasons for the crisis said Sindh had not procured any wheat last year while Punjab had given 6-7 million tonnes of wheat to the poultry sector. He said 2-3m tonnes of wheat had been smuggled to Afghanistan.

He said the committee had made 19 recommendations to prevent a similar crisis in the coming years, which included formation of a wheat board having representation of all provinces. He said there was a requirement of 26m tonnes in 2020 which would increase to 36m tons in 2026. He said if the yield and acreage were not increased and support price for wheat was not rationalised, a major wheat crisis may hit the country after few years. He also said hoarders exploited the situation to their advantage.

Shibli Faraz said the report made it clear that it was a supply side issue and negligence of a provincial government clamouring over the issue had a major role to play in the crisis.

Zafarul Haq suggested a meeting of the committee of the whole to discuss the issue threadbare.

Pervez Rasheed said soya bean and corn flour and not wheat was used in poultry feed. He said that the 'thieves who allocated wheat meant for human consumption for poultry feed' should be exposed.

He said the report also talked about hoarders, adding that hoarding millions of tons of wheat required big go-downs and only a handful of affluent people having the capacity held the grain for seven to eight months to make windfall profits. 'Why these dacoits have not been unmasked and why the FIA report is being kept secret,' the senator asked. He said the thieves involved in looting the country should be held accountable.

Shibli Faraz agreed with Muzaffar Shah's remarks but said all the thieves who plundered national wealth should be taken to task.

PPP Parliamentary Leader in the House Sherry Rehman said a minister was being accused of being behind the crisis and regretted that the ruling party 'changes the rules when it comes to accountability of its own people'. 'They deliberately speak of starting accountability from decades ago so that their turn comes after a long time,' she remarked. She opposed the idea of formation of a wheat board and noted that support price was the real issue. She also demanded that the FIA report on wheat and sugar crisis be made public.

Mohsin Aziz said panic had been created which led to increase in the prices. He said the situation had been brought under control by the timely intervention of the government.
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Author:Iftikhar A. KhanUpdated
Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Date:Mar 4, 2020
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