ISLAMABAD - The government has approved a huge spending plan to uplift the agriculture sector, which saw country’s imports shot up to over 4 billion dollars, out of which $2 billion were being used only for buying edible oil.

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, while briefing the media after the cabinet meeting, said the cabinet has decided to spend 290 billion rupees on agriculture, with 18 big schemes to be launched in the next five years.

According to the information minister, PTI leader Jahangir Tareen gave a detailed briefing to the cabinet on agriculture sector. Fawad told the media that during the last eight years, agricultural spending got reduced by 60 percent negatively impacting this crucial sector of the economy.

He said the country’s agricultural imports have reached 4 billion dollars, out of which 2 billion dollars were of edible oil bill. He said the cabinet decided to raise awareness among people to limit the consumption of vanaspati oil to save precious foreign exchange on import of edible oil and also the health.

Fawad was of the view that in the new agri schemes, focus will be laid on increasing per capita production, judicious use of water, and increased access to farming credits. He said as per direction of Prime Minister Imran Khan, livestock and fisheries sector will be given special attention as they have a huge export potential.

The minister said the cabinet also took up the issue of inflated gas bills and discussed measures to rectify the situation. He said 3.2 million gas consumers were affected by the exaggerated gas bills. The cabinet decided that an amount of Rs 2.5 billion will be returned to the gas consumers for inflated bills.

The minister said it was a case of overbilling and added the practice was going on since 2016-17. He, however, said the present government took notice of the same. “The investigation into the scam is going on and it seems that the gas was being stolen and the burden has been shifted to common consumer,” he added.

The minister said that some big names are likely to be blamed for the scam along with a network of the cheats.

 

 

 

 

 

The minister said the cabinet decided that heads of regulatory bodies, corporations, and attached departments of ministries will be selected on merit and a preliminary committee headed by the respective minister will oversee the process. They will shortlist the names to be sent to government for approval, the minister added.

The cabinet gave approval to grant National Information Technology Board an independent status, separating it from Ministry of Information Technology in order to improve its functioning.

He said a task force for Evacuee Trust Complex has been approved while the decision about its chairman has been deferred for a week. “It has also been decided to shift Accountability Court No 2 Rawalpindi to Islamabad and it will now be called Accountability Court No 3,” said the minister.

According to the minister, the government, accepting demand of the Sikh community, has also decided not to construct any building on the land cultivated by Baba Guru Nanak in Kartarpur. Fawad said former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu had written to PM Imran for the same and the government has decided to respect sentiments of the Sikh community.

He said Prime Minister Imran Khan was stressing on adopting austerity measures as the country was facing economic crunch.

Fawad said the cabinet has decided to make necessary arrangements for the upcoming visit of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad to Pakistan on the occasion of 23rd March (Pakistan Day). He said it is a continuation of the visits of important world leaders to Pakistan after PTI came into power. He said Mahathir’s visit to Pakistan is a great honour for the country.

Earlier, the federal cabinet has expressed sorrow and grief over the tragic incident of terrorist attack on two mosques in New Zealand last week in which fifty persons were martyred.

“We need dialogue among civilizations to counter the hatred spread in the West against Islam and Muslims,” the cabinet, which met here on Tuesday with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair, raised the demand.

Fawad, during the media briefing, said the cabinet members were unanimous in their views that survival of human beings is possible only if they live in peaceful co-existence. The federal cabinet also offered fateha for those martyred in the tragic incident.