Home Latest News P.M. Sharif Approves Immediate Release of Rs. 23bn to AJK

P.M. Sharif Approves Immediate Release of Rs. 23bn to AJK

AJK P.M. says no reasonable person can argue with protesters’ demands for cheaper flour, electricity

by Staff Report

File photo of P.M. Shehbaz Sharif. Photo courtesy PMLN

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday approved the immediate release of Rs. 23 billion to the Government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) in a bid to resolve violent unrest triggered by protests demanding cheap electricity and flour.

Launched by the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee (AAC), the demonstrations that commenced last week demanded the government the removal of taxes on electricity tariffs, as well as subsidized wheat flour and an end to the perks and privileges of the elite class.

On May 9-10, police arrested around 70 activists to prevent a planned long march to Muzaffarabad, triggering clashes in Dadyal and a “shutter-down strike” call. The government also imposed Section 144, banning public gatherings, which saw clashes between police and protesters in different areas of Muzaffarabad on Saturday.

On Sunday, the region saw a continuation of the violent clashes between police and protesters, leaving one policeman dead and over 90 other police officials and civilians injured. Efforts to resolve the situation between the AJK government and the AAC ended on deadlock on Sunday night, with the protesters vowing to proceed with their long march on Monday (today).

As concern over the unrest mounted, both President Asif Ali Zardari and P.M. Sharif vowed to address the “genuine demands” of protesters, urging all stakeholders to exercise restraint and resolve the issues through dialogue. On Monday morning, the premier convened a special meeting in Islamabad with the participation of AJK P.M. Chaudhry Anwarul Haq, local ministers and top political leadership, as well as federal ministers and leaders of coalition parties.

Addressing a press conference after the meeting, the AJK P.M. said no reasonable person could argue with demands for cheaper electricity and flour for the poor. He also stressed that the democratically elected government had exercised restraint and not taken action against violations to Section 144. This restraint, he maintained, had prevented serious injuries or deaths apart from one policeman who died after being pelted by stones from the demonstrators.

Referring to the meeting in Islamabad, the AJK P.M. said P.M. Sharif had assured him in a telephone call on Sunday that nothing could damage the “special” relationship between the people of Pakistan and Kashmir and he would take any steps necessary to resolve the situation. In this regard, he said, despite the major economic challenges facing Pakistan, Sharif had announced the provision of Rs. 23 billion for the region. He thanked Sharif on behalf of the AJK government and the people of the region.

Following the meeting, said Haq, the AJK government had already issued notifications announcing subsidies for food and cheaper electricity. Per the notification, he said, electricity tariffs were fixed at Rs. 3/kWH for up to 100 units of power; Rs. 5/kWH for 101-300; and Rs. 6 for consumption of more than 301 units. Similarly, he said, commercial electricity would cost Rs. 10/kWH for up to 300 units and Rs. 15/kWH for consumption of more than 300 units.

For wheat flour, said Haq, the government would pay Rs. 23 billion in subsidy to provide 40kg of wheat to consumers for Rs. 2,000. He said the issue was handled very delicately, adding both the establishment and the Army chief had played a key role in resolving the situation. To a question, he clarified this was a “permanent” arrangement and funds for the same would be allocated in the upcoming budget.

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