CM Hafeez rejects cut in uplift funds, withdrawal of wheat subsidy


Ali Ahmed Jan & D.W.Baig

ISLAMABAD, Oct 3: Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman has expressed serious concerns over PTI government’s decision to slash funds for projects approved by the previous PML-N government under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) and suspending supply of wheat to the GB on subsidised rate. According to media reports, the federal government has slashed Rs4 billion from GB’s development budget.

“If the rights of the people were usurped, they will launch a protest movement,” CM Rahman warned while addressing a press conference at the GB House here on Wednesday.

The PTI government should respect our mandate and do not usurp our rights,” remarked the chief minister.

He spoke on a host of issues including his government’s three-year achievements, initiatives for the development of GB that, he feared, may be hampered as a result of the drastic cut in funds allocated by the previous PML-N government under the PSDP.

He reminded the government of the sacrifices rendered by the people of GB for the country, citing the recent Waziristan incident in which five young men from GB were among the seven soldiers killed in North Waziristan while fighting terrorists.

CM Rahman expressed annoyance at the cancellation of a meeting with PM Khan scheduled for Tuesday.

The PTI government has reportedly withdrawn subsidy on wheat supplied to GB and slashed funds for 18 development projects.

The CM had earlier met PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif on Tuesday and discussed the emerging situation in the wake of the PTI government’s decision and cancellation of his meeting with Khan.

The CM was visibly perturbed over the PTI government’s decision.

The CM highlighted the geo-strategic importance of the region, which has increased manifold after the announcement of CPEC and the Diamer-Bhasha dam.

PTI govt has slashed funds for road, water, education and health projects worth over Rs4Rs billion in PSDP

He warned the government against any change in the design and status of the dam as well as withdrawal of subsidy on wheat, removal of mega development projects and cut in development budget as it will trigger unrest in the sensitive region and provide an opportunity to the foreign enemies to exploit the situation and disturb CPEC.

“We do not want any confrontation with the central government, we just want to highlight our grievances and concerns about government intentions”, the CM said.

He spoke about the successes and challenges facing his regional government and his three-year performance. “Restoration of peace was the biggest challenge and we overcame the scourge of sectarian strife and restored peace, economic activities, and tourism to the GB,” CM Rahman said.

Mega projects in doldrums

Sharing the salient points of the development initiatives his government has taken so far since 2015 after coming into power, he said.

He said that his government increased the development budget from Rs7 billion to Rs17 billion besides launching 18 mega projects worth over Rs45 billion under PSDP. “Road networks are being laid in the region to facilitate people and expedite the development process; our government introduced revolutionary changes in the education and health sectors,” the chief minister said.

Sharing the details of the mega projects dropped from PSDP by the PTI government, the CM said in the communication sector, work on the Rs32-billion Skardu-Jaglot Road was started last year after a long delay and an amount of Rs5 billion was allocated for the current financial year. But the new government has cut Rs3 billion from it that will affect the work; three more road projects — Kel-Shounter Road, Ratu-Jaglot Road, and Gilgit-Shandur costing Rs34 billion have also been dropped from PSDP.

In the education sector, the decision will hit the Rs3.1-billion Karakoram University women’s campus and a medical college in Gilgit.

The PTI government move will also hit survey for the water and sewerage system in Gilgit costing Rs3.850 billion, the development of the 15MW power project at Attabad Lake in Hunza, costing Rs500 million, carpeting of 85km Road from Chilas to Naran via Batogah (Rs2.124bn); upgradation of 25km Kargah Road (Rs750m) will also be affected.

Several projects have been completed and some are in the final stage of completion. Regrettably, slashing funds at this crucial stage will affect the projects, he lamented.

Wheat subsidy issue

CM Rahman said that agricultural output in the region is negligible and the local demand for the basic commodities, including wheat flour is met through supply from Punjab on a subsidised rate that was initiated by late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 70s, the CM said and went on to add successive governments never thought of withdrawing the subsidy.

He disclosed that the new government’s food ministry has written a letter to him [CM] hinting at withdrawing the subsidy. Now a 20kg wheat will cost Rs3,300 as compared to Rs1,200 if implemented.

“I reject the proposal and warn that the people and government of GB will resist any such decisions.”

It’s worth mentioning here that the previous PML-N government had also withdrawn the subsidy in 2014, that had triggered a massive protest movement under the banner of the Awami Action Committee in the region, forcing the government to withdraw the decision.

Diamer-Bhasha Dam

About Diamer Dam, he said that we are happy with the project but have also some reservations that needs to be addressed. The government had allocated Rs65 billion for the project, including compensation for the land acquired for the project, but we saved Rs11 billion and returned back to the federal government. For the development of Diamer out of the total Rs25 billion  fund only Rs1.2 billion has been sanctioned, he said.

CM Hafeez opposed the government’s plan to reduce Diamer-Bhasha dam to a water reservoir excluding the power generation from it.

“We want exploitation of the huge hydel power potential of GB to generate revenue, to become self-sufficient in terms of electricity and revenue and change the fate of the people.”

According to experts, he said GB has a potential to generate 50,000MW power that needs to be harnessed and added to the national grid. For this purpose, the government had allocated Rs2 billion.

Representation in constitutional bodies

He regretted that GB has not yet been given representation in constitutional bodies like Council of Common Interest, National Finance Commission to defend the interests of the disputed region.

Unless GB is granted a representation in these institutions, things will not move smoothly, he suggested.

He slammed the government for increasing prices of essential commodities which will impact the poor and working class. He said that the price of a gas cylinder has gone up from Rs1,200 to Rs2,100 in Gilgit making the commodity out of reach of the common man.

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