ISLAMABAD   -  The joint opposition registered a strong protest against recent increase in petroleum prices in Monday’s National Assembly session, forcing the chair to abruptly adjourn the proceedings. In Senate, the opposition members staged walked out after the chairman disallowed debate over this issue.

Soon after the Question-Hour (first one hour reserved for question-answers session), the opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly stood in their seats holding placards inscribed with slogans against the government for increasing prices of the petroleum products.

Slogans like “New petroleum prices – Unacceptable” and “Price hike – Unacceptable” were written on placards held mostly by the women lawmakers. The opposition MNAs gathered around the speaker’s podium and started raising anti-government slogans.

The government the other day (Sunday) increased the prices of almost all petroleum products for the month of May. For example, the price of petrol was jacked up by Rs9.53 per litre, as the General Sales Tax (GST) on petrol was increased from 1.94 percent to 12 percent and petroleum levy from Rs8.95 per litre to Rs14 per litre.

National Assembly Speaker Asad Qasier repeatedly asked the opposition members to sit in their seats. “Don’t make noise... Stop shouting slogans, and placards are not allowed in the house,” said the chair, warning the opposition lawmakers that he would adjourn the house if they continued creating rumpus.

But all warnings of the speaker fell on deaf ears. The opposition members kept raising slogans and did not go vacate the speaker’s dais. The chair gave the floor to the Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar to give response to opposition but the voice of opposition got further louder.

Amid the utterly noisy environment, the minister said the opposition parties had several times taken help from IMF in their governments and now they were protesting against the incumbent government. “Opposition have approached the IMF for 21 times in their eras and [they] are now terming it a bad practice,” he remarked. Given the uncontrollable situation, the chair preferred to abruptly adjourn the proceedings till Wednesday.

 Senate situation In the Upper House of Parliament, the entire opposition staged protest walkout from the house for disallowing it to hold a discussion on the increase in prices of petroleum products - which led to the earlier adjournment of the house leaving the house business incomplete.

Following the walkout, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani adjourned the house due to the lack of quorum, which was pointed out by an independent lawmaker.

While the house was taking up the routine agenda on a private members’ day, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Javed Abbassi on a point of public concern said the house should hold a discussion on the government’s recent decision to increase the prices of gas and petroleum products and called the increase a “bomb shell” dropped on poor masses ahead of holy month of Ramazan.

“The entire house would want that a discussion should be held on the issue,” he said, adding that the matter was sensitive in nature. He said that the government should have given relief to the masses by decreasing prices in Ramazan as was practiced throughout the world on the eve of New Year celebrations.

The treasury reacted to the remarks of opposition lawmaker and stressed the chair that the agenda present on the orders of the day should be transacted first and then the matter should be discussed.

Leader of the House Senator Shibli Faraz protested with the chair for allowing Abassi to speak on the floor in the middle of transaction of business. “The house business should be the priority,” he said and advised the opposition lawmakers “not to play to the galleries.”

He said that the government would respond to the opposition’s queries but the business should be completed first. “We will tell what occurred in the past and what is happening now,” he added. He regretted that opposition lawmakers were not giving due priority to house business.

Leader of the Opposition Raja Zafarul Haq agreed to the proposal of his party colleague and said that the issue was so important that the government benches should not oppose this discussion.

“This will provide an opportunity to the government to explain reasons of this massive increase,” he said. He added that the decision had a bad impact on the country’s economy and especially on the life of a common man. The government should not worry to hold a debate on it, he stressed.

The treasury however kept sticking to their stance that the house business should be dealt with first. Senate chairman ruled that the house business would be transacted first and then a discussion would be held on the prices increase. “I will be sitting here till 9pm in the night to discuss the matter,” he said.

But the opposition staged a protest walkout against the ruling. Soon after the walkout, an independent lawmaker pointed out the quorum. After a count was made, the chair adjourned the house for 30 minutes due to lack of quorum as only 14 lawmakers — less that required quorum out of 104-member house — were present in the house at that time.

When the house resumed after the break, leader of the house told the chair that opposition did not agree to end the protest and come back in the house. Again a count was made and the chair adjourned the house till 11am Tuesday [today] after finding it not in quorum.

Earlier, parliamentary leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman presented the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (Substitution of Article 84), in the house. The bill aims to substitute Article 84 of the Constitution to curtail the practice of expenditures in excess and that of supplementary grants, except in dire need or uncertainty.

Speaking on the floor of the house, Ms Rehman said, “Parliaments have the authority to pass supplementary budgets under emergency situations but Article 84 is continuously being exploited.”

Entire budgets should be passed after undergoing parliamentary oversight. In the UK as well as in the neighbouring India, supplementary grants are passed through the parliament, she said. The bill was referred to the standing committee concerned.