Sharif’s farmers’ package gets the nod

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IHC annuls ECP decision, admits govt’s submission that farmers’ package is for whole of Pakistan and not just for two provinces where LG polls are being held

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday restored the Rs 341 billion farmers’ relief package announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Sept 15, while accepting the federation’s plea against its suspension by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

A division bench comprising Justice Noorul Haq N. Qureshi and Justice Aamer Farooq allowed the petition filed by the federal government in its judgment announced on Thursday.

Earlier, Attorney General (AG) Salman Aslam Butt had requested the court to set aside the ECP order suspending the relief package on account of violating the ‘code of conduct’ ahead of the Local Government Elections (LGEs) in Punjab and Sindh.

The AG pleaded that the prime minister, on behalf of the federal government, had announced the relief package for the agricultural sector on Sept 15, 2015, whereas the ECP issued its code of conduct on Sept 21.

Salman Butt argued that the ECP has the constitutional mandate of holding free and fair elections in the country and that it can issue a code of conduct, but only after consultation with political parties and keeping the interests of the electorate in mind.

He further said that LG polls were not going to be held throughout the country but the relief package was announced for the whole of Pakistan, adding that the ECP was not authorised and empowered to interfere in any business and impede any policy decisions being adopted by the government.

ECP, on Sept 30, denounced the farmers’ relief package announced by the prime minister as a violation of its code of conduct and barred the government from implementing the package.

The decision was announced citing the reason that the relief offered through farmers’ package was not part of the budget speech made by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

The package provides a direct benefit of Rs 147 billion to small farmers across the country whereas an additional loan of Rs 194 billion will be available to the agriculture sector.

The ECP code of conduct for LG polls in Sindh and Punjab categorically states that political parties and candidates participating in the elections shall not offer or announce any financial help to any person or institution after the announcement of schedule for elections.

Through the aforementioned package, the government has decided to provide a cash support of Rs 5,000 with immediate effect to the growers of cotton and rice as a direct relief.

The amount will be disbursed among the farmers owning a maximum of 12.5 acres of land. It will cost the government Rs 20 billion. The amount will be equally shared by the provincial governments concerned.