NA offers solace on farm inputs, remains divided on crop prices

—Illustration by Khalid Haq

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s view seemed to have prevailed in the National Assembly on Thursday as the house demanded that the government abolish general sales tax (GST) on agricultural machinery and other inputs, but sidestepped demands for increasing support prices of crops because of a stated division in a standing committee.

The house demand came in its adoption of a report of its standing committee on national food security and research after persistent demands by the farm lobby in the house for increases in the support prices of crops amid a glut and price fall in the domestic market.

The 20-member committee, dominated by the ruling PML-N, recommended that “GST levied on agricultural machinery, fertilisers, pesticides and other agricultural input items should be waived off in the best interest of farms”.

Landowning lawmakers from both sides of aisle have been demanding increase in support price of wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane.

Neither the committee’s report nor its unanimous adoption by the house, without any debate, is binding on the government. But it reflected the government’s viewpoint which came six days after National Food Security and Research Minister Sikandar Hayat Bosan told the house that the prime minister had set up a committee to recommend ways to lower the cost of agricultural production, “instead of raising support prices every now and then”.

It also followed a government notification last month fixing lower electricity rates for agricultural tubewells.

It was PML-N member Raza Hayat Harraj’s strong advocacy in the house on Oct 28 of the farming community’s demand for higher support prices that had prompted Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq to refer the question to the committee.

Its report said Mr Harraj and “a few other members of the committee were strongly of the view” that the support price of wheat be increased to Rs1,500 from Rs1,300 per 40 kg “or the GST imposed on agricultural machinery and other agricultural inputs should be waived off”.

But it said that after an intensive discussion, “the committee could not develop a consensus to fix the support price of wheat and other crops”.

TRANSIT TRADE: The report said the committee was informed that the government was taking “serious steps regarding Afghan transit trade” through Pakistan and that the food security ministry “assured the committee that Indian wheat would not be allowed to enter into Pakistani territory for its export to Afghanistan”.

Yet, as a sign of its own emphasis, the committee too recommended that “Indian wheat may not be allowed to enter into Pakistani territory for its export to Afghanistan through Afghan transit trade”.

The committee also recommended that the National Accountability Bureau and the Federal Investigation Agency probe the private sector’s import of what it called sub-standard wheat from Ukraine “in spite of the fact that huge quantity of our own wheat is available in the stock” to meet local requirements.

Earlier, Jamaat-i-Islami members staged a walkout to protest against Wednesday’s police baton-charge on a demonstration of visually impaired people in Lahore. They did not return to the house before it was adjourned until 10.30am on Friday.

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