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ISLAMABAD: Amidst chaos and furore created by the opposition, the National Assembly on Monday finally passed the Finance Bill 2020 after rejecting all the amendments of the joint opposition, which led to escalated hostility between both the sides in the House.

In an all important session of the National Assembly, which was also attended by Prime Minister Imran Khan, Federal Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar initiated debate on the Finance Bill 2020 before giving a clause-by-clause reading to the bill seeking the House's nod to get the bill sailed through. Unexpectedly, the House had a smooth-sailing when the PM arrived, to the pleasant surprise of the treasury benches that were expecting a hostile welcome from the opposition. The opposition remained calm when the Premier arrived at the House.

Shazia Marri from Pakistan People's Party (PPP), who was speaking on the Finance Bill 2020, continued her speech when the PM joined the House.

At the voting stage, as many as 160 votes were cast in favour of the bill while 119 votes went against the bill.

During clause-by-clause reading, Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser started to hold a vote on Clause 9 of the bill after the joint opposition objected to this clause of Finance Bill 2020.

Hammad Azhar sought approval from the presiding officer for moving all the clauses of the Finance Bill 2020, which would come into effect from first day of July 2020.

It remained unclear whether any of the amendments proposed by Senate to the National Assembly on Finance Bill 2020 was incorporated or not as Azhar did not announce anything related to Senate proposals during the House's session.

On Thursday, Senate unanimously adopted a total of 93 recommendations of Senate Standing Committee on Finance related to the Finance Bill 2020 and sent them to the National Assembly for its consideration.

Constitutionally, the upper house of the Parliament can hold extensive debate on a money bill, including finance bill, and devise recommendations accordingly but it has practically no role in budgetary legislation involving a money bill since it is completely up to the National Assembly to either completely or partially accept those recommendations or hand them an outright rejection.

Moreover, a money bill does not land in Senate or seek the upper house's nod for passage in order to become a law. It only needs to be passed by the NA with simple majority and then requires a ceremonial ascent from the President of Pakistan in order to become a law.

Earlier, responding to the criticism of the opposition members on increase in petroleum prices and levy, the industries and production minister said that petroleum levy's maximum limit of Rs 30 per litre was fixed by the previous federal government. The previous government also increased price of petrol by 35 percent in one month, he added.

Members of the opposition parties came hard on the government on petroleum prices increase and described it as irrational and unjustified taxation on the poor to benefit the petroleum cartel by allowing oil companies to make windfall profits.

Khawaja Muhammad Asif of Pakistan Muslim League (N) said that in the first place, artificial shortage of petroleum prices was created by the government and petroleum sellers to create a justification for increase in the petroleum prices. He added that the rulers, in collusion with petroleum companies, made windfall profits of billions of rupees by first stocking the fuel and creating its artificial shortage and then selling it when the prices were increased by the government.

"Petroleum levy is directly related to the budget and spillover impact of this unprecedented increase has jolted every segment of the society across the country. From increase in gas and electricity prices to those of essential commodities, the present government is leaving no stone unturned to add to the miseries of already suffering masses. This budget is an interim arrangement strongly resented by public circles," he added.

Asif said increase in petroleum prices would stoke inflation and more people would go below poverty line as unemployment in the country has already increased from 3 million to over 10 million owing to Covid-19. He said that there was no smart lockdown practiced anywhere in the country. "In my constituency, four places were declared COVID-19 hotspots but none of them was locked down," he said.

Chairman Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said, he "cannot decide from where to start," as, he added, Hammad Azhar in his budget speech stated that petroleum prices would be reduced to Rs 45 per litre and for this purpose Rs 70 billion was earmarked under economic stimulus package. "But things have turned otherwise. Instead of reducing the petroleum prices to Rs 45 per litre, the federal government ended up increasing the same by Rs 25."

He termed the increase in petroleum prices "illegal and criminal," since, he said, instead of the regulator- OGRA (Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority), the notification regarding petroleum prices' increase was issued by the minister. "How can a minister issue notification which was to be issued by the OGRA?" Bilawal asked.

He added that only oil companies have benefited from the unjustified and unprecedented increase. Bilawal wondered "when oil companies were making profit no benefit was passed on to the people but when the companies faced some loss, the decision was taken to immediately recover from the poor consumers."

"We condemn this increase and would challenge the decision at every forum because increase in petroleum prices leads to inflation in the county," he said asking the PM to confine himself to "quarantine because whenever he has taken notice of anything its prices were further increased whether medicines, sugar or any other commodity."

He said the government is attacking the pilots of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) with the intent to privatise the national airline.

"The government has taxed the poor Pakistanis in the form of increase in petroleum levy and this budget has failed the people," Bilawal said.

PML-N's Ahsan Iqbal said that the only purpose of the increase in petroleum prices is taxation and not to calibrate with the international market.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020