Budget sessions are predictably unruly and full of bedlam and drama elements, but one had never expected the level of tensions and suspense, which hit the Punjab budget session even before its start in the Punjab Assembly on Monday in Lahore. In the daylong drama, both sides – the treasury and the opposition – stuck to their sides, mostly loaded with egoism, and delayed the session till late evening hours. The government should have accepted the just demands of Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi that the top police boss of the police surrender to the power of the people’s representatives and say sorry to the office of the speaker for sending police personnel into the assembly hall and that the government withdraw cases lodged against the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and PML-Q parliamentarians and workers. Cases against PTI and PML-Q MPs and workers are of political nature, while the inspector general of police arguably committed excess by ordering the police to break into the assembly premises. Up to six hours were wasted in efforts to break the deadlock but both sides won’t budge. Though the session remained on for a brief time, the absence of the chief secretary and the inspector general of police in the assembly hall evoked a strong reaction from the assembly who issued a strong ruling asking them to be present in the hall during the session. The speaker has issued a ruling regarding both officials’ presence in the hall, which must be followed in the letter and spirit. Another reason which kept the session in limbo was the presence of firebrand Attaullah Tararr in the house. He, being an unelected minister, became a punching bag of the treasury who wanted his ejection from the house. Long story short, in bickering and pendulum, the day went by and the budget could not be presented.
The contents of the budget have already been shared with the media, and the next financial year does not look so rosy for the government as well as the people. The budget approved by the cabinet has more than Rs3.226 trillion outlay for the fiscal year 2022-23, having an Annual Development Programme worth Rs685 billion, which is 22.3 per cent more than the ongoing ADP of Rs560bn. The budget lacks any landmark scheme for the people of the province, as most of the revenue will be consumed by non-development works and ongoing schemes. No major relief has been proposed for the public, except an increase in salaries and pension of employees by 15 per cent and 5 per cent alongside merging the previous ad hoc increases into the basic salary. The economic situation is in dire straits, and the federal government is trying hard to secure a deal from the International Monetary Fund. The deal stems from a set of tough decisions, which will unleash a storm of dearness and uncertainty. In such turbulent times, our political forces should demonstrate maturity and put aside egos and work together for the betterment of the people.