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June 20, 2021

Budget amid chaos

 
June 20, 2021

Friday saw some very disturbing scenes outside the Balochistan Assembly, which presented the scene of a mayhem not expected in any assembly – with members of parliament sustaining injuries in the ensuing drama and consequent police action. The opposition had staged protests that turned violent, and the budget presentation was marred by the fracas. The immediate context for this is that the opposition in Balochistan is not happy at what they call discrimination in the allocation of development funds in certain constituencies. For the last few days, the JUI-F, BNP-M, PkMAP, and some independent members had set up protest camps outside the assembly hall in Quetta. They have been demanding that the provincial coalition government allocate development funds for their constituencies. Apparently, the chief minister did not pay much heed to their demands prompting the opposition to vent their anger on the budget day.

Ideally, the chief minister and his concerned officials should have tried to resolve this issue by holding constructive talks with the opposition, as it should happen in a democratic setup. But like the centre, the provincial government did not respond positively even when the opposition parties blocked the national highway. If the government wanted to present the budget peacefully it should have talked to the opposition parties to alleviate their legitimate grievances. The government did not accept the development schemes that the opposition parties were suggesting, nor did it include them in the annual development plan for next year. That said, the opposition locking the assembly gates from inside to prevent the ruling-coalition members from entering the premises was hardly going to make things easier. Overall, a poor show all around.

Amid all this, the newly unveiled provincial budget has promised to create over 5,800 jobs and new education and health schemes in the province with plans to build 100 new middle schools announced as well. The proposed budget for 2021-22 is worth Rs584 billion with a development stimulus of Rs237 billion. But the main point of concern should be the stipulated resource shortfall of nearly Rs85 billion. A look at the budget shows total revenue of nearly Rs500 billion and expenses at over Rs584 billion for the coming fiscal year. Nearly three-fourth of the total revenues is expected to come from the federal transfers, whereas non-tax receipts are slightly over Rs86 billion. Current expenditure will consume as much as nearly Rs320 billion while development allocation will get Rs237 billion. There is always a sad likelihood that in case the shortfall in revenue amounting to Rs85 billion remains unmet, or partially met, the development outlay will be slashed. We will see more analysis of the budget in the coming days and weeks, but one point must be clear to all: staging peaceful protests is lawful and neither the opposition nor the ruling alliance should opt for chaos – trivializing something that affects the people of the province they all claim to represent.