Punjab Govt Unveils Rs5.4 Trillion Tax-free Budget Amid Opposition Protests


Punjab govt unveils Rs5.4 trillion tax-free budget amid opposition protests

During the budget presentation, opposition members staged a strong protest, and journalists walked out in protest against the provincial government’s policies, including the passage of the Defamation Act 2024 in the previous session.

LAHORE : (UrduPoint/Pakistan Point News-June 13rd, 2024) Te Punjab government on Thursday introduced a budget totaling Rs5.4 trillion, describing it as the first tax-free budget of the current administration.

Punjab Finance Minister Mujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman presented the budget proposals, announcing that no new taxes would be imposed for the next fiscal year.

During the budget presentation, opposition members staged a strong protest, and journalists walked out in protest against the provincial government’s policies, including the passage of the Defamation Act 2024 in the previous session.

Shuja-ur-Rehman stated that revenue collection would increase by 50% through alternative methods, with the next Annual Development Programme (ADP) amounting to Rs842 billion. The budget includes 77 new mega projects under the ADP, with a revenue target of Rs960 billion for the upcoming fiscal year.

The finance minister also announced an increase in the minimum wage from Rs32,000 to Rs37,000, and government employees' salaries will see an increase of up to 25%. Additionally, the Minority Development Fund has been boosted by Rs1 billion for the first time. The budget allocates Rs6 billion for a laptop scheme and Rs5 billion for the Pakistan Kidney and Liver Transplant Institute Endowment Fund.

Shuja-ur-Rehman highlighted that the inflation rate had been reduced to 11.8%, with significant cuts in government expenditures. The minister also emphasized revolutionary measures in Punjab's health sector, including the provision of free Wi-Fi at various locations across the province.

Moreover, solar panels will be provided to electricity consumers using 100 units, and easy loans will be available for those constructing houses up to five marlas.

However, the exemption from sales tax for charitable and welfare hospitals has been withdrawn, and the concessional Sixth schedule for these hospitals eliminated. As a result, all supplies to charitable hospitals with 50 beds now incur sales tax. Teaching welfare hospitals with 200 beds are also subject to sales tax. The cost of injections, testing kits, and tubes in charitable hospitals has increased due to an 18% sales tax imposed on these items. Additionally, medical gloves and masks used in charitable hospitals now carry an 18% sales tax. Surgical instruments used by charitable and welfare organizations are also subject to an 18% sales tax, and machinery and spare parts for these hospitals now incur sales tax.

An estimated expenditure of Rs. 409 million has been allocated for the Governor Secretariat, with a proposal to allocate Rs. 492.5 million for the staff of the Governor House. For the current fiscal year, Rs. 777.2 million has been allocated for the expenses of the Governor House and Secretariat, while the expenses of the Chief Minister’s Office in Punjab have reached Rs. 1.2341 billion. A proposal has been made to allocate Rs. 352.9 million for the expenses of provincial ministers, and Rs. 955.5 million has been allocated for ongoing expenses at the Chief Minister’s House.

Punjab Assembly Opposition Leader Malik Ahmed Bhachar criticized the budget for lacking policies that benefit the common man. Speaking to reporters, he remarked that this is an incompetent government run by incompetent people. “They had promised to provide 300 free units of electricity. Can you point out any policy in the budget that will benefit the common man?” he questioned.

He added that the government’s Primary focus has been to file cases against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) workers. “Lawlessness is rampant in the province, and baseless cases have been filed against our workers and leaders in Muzaffargarh, Mianwali, and Gujranwala. There is a civil martial law in the country, and the government is favoring the sugar mafia,” he said.

The Opposition leader mentioned that they are preparing a response to the budget and would present a shadow budget. “Just as we rejected the Federal budget, we reject Punjab’s budget as well. This budget was created by bureaucrats. In the center, the uncle cut off people's lifelines with the budget, and in the province, Maryam Nawaz has buried people alive," he said.

Malik Ahmed Bhachar further claimed that the Inspector General of Punjab Police is on the government’s payroll and that this government was not elected by the people’s votes. "What can we expect from the budget during this period of civil martial law?" he questioned.

Earlier in the day, the Punjab cabinet approved the tax-free budget for the next fiscal year in a meeting led by Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz in Lahore. In her address, the Chief Minister affirmed the government's commitment to fulfilling its promises to the people.

Abdullah Hussain

Abdullah Hussain is a staff member who writes on politics, human rights, social issues and climate change.