Thursday April 18, 2024

Punjab cabinet ratifies approval of annual budget, suppl grant

The cabinet approved a project for the supply of 20,000 petrol and electric bikes by the Bank of Punjab

By Our Correspondent
March 20, 2024
Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz presiding over the third meeting of the provincial cabinet in this still taken from a video on March 19, 2024. — Facebook/Maryam Nawaz Sharif
Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz presiding over the third meeting of the provincial cabinet in this still taken from a video on March 19, 2024. — Facebook/Maryam Nawaz Sharif

LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz chaired the third meeting of the provincial cabinet here on Tuesday. The cabinet ratified the approval of annual budget and a supplementary budget grant for 2023-24.

The approval to hand over the Lahore Knowledge Park to the Punjab Central Business District Development Authority was given by the cabinet. The land will be transferred to the CBD to build Pakistan’s largest IT City in which tech giants like Google and Microsoft have shown interest in it. She directed completing both towers of the IT City in one year. She said the world’s major educational institutions would be invited to build campuses in the Knowledge City. There would be a Film City too.

The cabinet approved a project for the supply of 20,000 petrol and electric bikes by the Bank of Punjab. She said that to reduce burden on students, the down payment would be reduced to Rs25,000 and the monthly installment would also be less than Rs5,000. The distribution of bikes would start in May this year. A separate scheme would be introduced to give bikes to students who have achieved significant success in examinations.

On court directions, the cabinet approved the trial of PTI founder Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the Adiala Jail. The cabinet also gave in-principle approval for the extension of posting on deputation of CEO Punjab Transport Company. The cabinet approved the provincial representation of Punjab in the Council of Common Interests Secretariat. The approval for the transfer of government of Punjab’s Grade-19 vacancy in the Council of Common Interests Secretariat Islamabad was granted.

The Punjab Air Ambulance Project was also discussed in the meeting. She said that in the Lahore PIC Emergency, heart attack patients arrived from distant areas within 8 hours. Therefore, the Air Ambulance Project was very much needed, but it would be rolled out on a trial basis in the first phase. The cabinet also gave in-principle approval to reduce the number of law officers in Punjab to 66 after following strict performance-based criteria. Provincial ministers, chief secretary, IG Punjab Police, secretaries and other senior officers attended the meeting.

During a meeting with the Iranian consul general Mehran Mowahed Far, who called on her to congratulate her on being elected as the first female chief minister of Punjab, she said, “I want to take Pak-Iran bilateral relations to a higher level.” She expressed her desire to boost cooperation between the two countries. Both leaders agreed on the promotion of cultural and youth exchanges between the two countries. A decision was taken to take immediate steps in this regard.

The chief minister said: “As a goodwill gesture, lights will be lit in the Badshahi Mosque on March 20 on the occasion of Nowruz. Pakistan and Iran are culturally and religiously connected. The historical relationship between the people of Pakistan and Iran spans centuries. I want to increase mutual agricultural cooperation and trade with Iran.”

The consul general expressed good wishes for the people and government of Punjab.

Chairing a meeting on solid waste management, the chief minister said: “A sustainable system of cleaning every street, neighbourhood and roads will be implemented in Punjab.” She directed the authorities concerned to present a model mechanism for solid waste management at the earliest. She said apart from the new sanitation system, up to 125,000 jobs will be created. She rejected a proposal to impose sanitation tax on farmers. However, she agreed to a proposal to outsource the sanitation system in the province.

Meanwhile, Maryam Nawaz was the chief guest at the launching ceremony of the Punjab Rider Safety Initiative, a first of its kind project to ensure riders’ safety in the province.

Later, Maryam Nawaz visited Captain Ahmed Badar Shaheed’s house in Tala Gang, Tuman, to offer condolences and show solidarity with the family members. She paid homage to all martyrs who achieved the exalted status of martyrdom while fulfilling their duty of defending the homeland with bravery. “The whole nation salutes the courageous, patient and faithful parents and families of martyrs.”

She said: “The conversation of Captain Ahmed Badar Shaheed’s father has renewed the courage and faith of the entire nation. The great sacrifices of martyrs are a testimony to the love of martyrdom and spirit of devotion to the motherland. The nation is with its brave armed forces till the end of the last terrorist. Those who test our patience will not find a place to hide.”

Meanwhile, Punjab Finance Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman announced on Tuesday the launch of an investigation into corruption related to Sehat Cards as billions of rupees have been fraudulently misappropriated under the scheme during the previous government’s tenure.

Furthermore, the government has not discontinued the Sehat Card scheme and has allocated Rs45 billion for it in the budget. Transparency into the Sehat Card scheme will be ensured by the current government. Only eligible individuals will benefit from the Sehat Card and treatment at private hospitals will also be possible under the scheme.

Addressing a post-budget press conference at 90 Shara-e-Quaid Azam, the minister said the government is committed to providing full relief to the poor and deserving people of the province. The government has allocated Rs30 billion for the Ramzan Package and has not made any cuts to the Nigehban Package.

Mujtaba alleged that extensive corruption had occurred under the guise of health card during the previous government’s tenure and assured that the current government would thoroughly investigate it. He emphasized that the Sehat Card, initiated by the PMLN, will be continued, with efforts focused on eliminating loopholes and corruption. The government will distribute health cards to deserving individuals transparently, ensuring there is no corruption in the Sehat Card scheme.

Mujtaba highlighted that beneficiaries of the Ramzan Nigehban package are being treated with dignity, with packages delivered to their homes in a manner reminiscent of the Madina style, where no one’s self-esteem is compromised.

The finance minister revealed that three committees have been formed for price control and monitoring of the Ramzan Nigheban package daily. He mentioned record arrests and fines against profiteers and hoarders during Ramazan and said that the government has appointed 1,500 magistrates for price control.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Planning and Development Board clarified that all projects initiated during the caretaker term were approved by the election commission. He said the next three months’ budget is solely that of the new government, with Rs280 billion earmarked for development projects. Some 15 percent is allocated for road infrastructure development schemes.

Finance Secretary Mujahid Sher Dil emphasised that Punjab has the highest surplus compared to the federal government and other provinces. He said that while surplus numbers cannot be disclosed, all departments have been instructed to keep their budgets under control. Current expenditure is being closely monitored and savings in salaries and pensions are being ensured, although savings in other current expenses are also being pursued. The finance department has approved vehicle purchases during this time.

Sher Dil mentioned that Punjab was burdened with a significant debt from loans taken for wheat procurement, resulting in a monthly markup payment of Rs250 million. However, Punjab has paid off Rs470 billion of its wheat debt. The finance minister said that the budget presented under exceptional circumstances will garner the support of people of Punjab through good governance. He reiterated the government’s commitment to prioritise education and health, along with the vision of transforming Punjab into a digital province and Lahore into a digital city. Special investment will be made in agriculture, environment, and ensuring the protection of life and property for all citizens. Industry and trade will be promoted through streamlined one-window services, and the Ramazan package reflects the people-friendly vision of Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz Sharif.