ISLAMABAD: The government on Wednesday admitted in Senate that circular debt swelled to Rs393 billion last month as compared to the permissible limit of Rs350 that will be adjusted through payment of Rs30 billion to independent power producers (IPPs) this week.

Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif also hit back at independent power producers (IPPs), saying the message conveyed to the government through media for payment of Rs254 billion by the power producers is a malicious attempt.

Speaking in Senate in response to a calling attention notice by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Senators Noman Khattak, Shibli Faraz, and Mohsin Aziz, to draw government's attention towards soaring circular debt pertaining to IPPs and their threat to call on the sovereign guarantee, Asif said that IPPs cannot convey a message through media as they should sent notices to the government.

He also rejected the claims that the amount overdue to the power sector stood at Rs440 billion. He also categorically rejected that the IPPs had called for the sovereign guarantees to get back the portion of these overdue amounts of the power sector -circular debt - payable by the government.

Asif said that circular debt will be brought down through commercial arrangements and regulatory interventions, adding the government will pay Rs30 billion to IPPs next week to bring down circular debt and rest of the payment will also be cleared very soon.

He said that guarantees have not been called yet, adding the IPPs have credit lines in private banks through which they can borrow to pay off the dues against supply of oil and gas.

Asif said the government has paid an outstanding amount of Rs39 billion to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which also caused a surge in circular debt. "The debt will be paid off once recovery from consumers starts...this was their [KP] right and we made a payment of Rs25 billion, and then another Rs14 billion were given to the province," he added.

About the efficiency audit of public sector power generation companies, he said that the government has undertaken audit of all public sector entities, adding the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) is responsible for conducting audit of IPPs, and it should be held responsible for not conducting the audit.

About soaring up of curricular debt to "Rs440 billion" despite a dip in oil prices, he said that the government has put a cap on circular debt at Rs350 billion, adding it goes up in the beginning of the month and declines at the end of month due to payments of bills.

"The situation of the power sector has improved a lot as we are managing things at our own. In the past, Ministry of Water and Power used to get huge additional amounts from the government, and now we do not get any single penny in addition," he added.

The joint opposition, however, rejected the briefing by the minister for water and power, and staged a token walkout from the House, saying the circular debt is as high as it used to be before 2013 when the prices of oil in the international market were skyrocketing.

Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid while responding to a motion by Senator Atique Sheikh of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) about writing off Rs46 million by banks on their own discretion and without bringing it to notice, said the government has nothing to do with loan write- off by various banks.

He said banks' boards of directors write off loans according to the laid down procedure of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), adding that writing off loans is not done in isolation and it is a public matter.

About any loan written off by National Bank of Pakistan (NBP), he said that it has not written off any loan since March 2010.

The Senate also passed a unanimous resolution acknowledging the contribution of women from every walk of life, including homemakers, farmers, domestic helpers, labourers, filmmakers, educationists, artists, doctors, writers, poet, journalists and legislators, and paid tribute to the relentless efforts of women towards the development and progress of the country.

The resolution moved by Leader of the House Raja Zafar-ul-Haq appreciated the struggle for standing up against dictators. It said that Senate reaffirms its commitment to protecting the constitutional rights of women.

Speaking with reference to International Women's Day, the senators paid rich tribute to the womenfolk for their role in nation building. They said women played a crucial role in the Independence of Pakistan.

Senator Sherry Rehman, a close aide of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said she had always fought for the rights of women, adding her sole purpose was to empower women.

"The women should have the right to get married by choice and not by force. "Mei Nei Ki He Shadi Apni Merzi Se, Aur Danke Ki Chot Pe Ki He (I got married by choice, and have done it openly)," she said, adding, "And I would want all other women to have the right to get married by choice as it is their right."

The women lawmakers including some of their male colleagues severely criticised the Council of Islamic Ideology (CCI), saying it has nothing to do except making statements to suppress the women as much as possible.

Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani also nominated Senator Sitara Ayaz to chair the session in order to appreciate the services of women for the country and encourage women senators in the House on the occasion of the International Women's Day.

Chairman Senate also announced that FATA senators from now would be treated as independent group of opposition benches on their demand but they could not sit on opposition benches due to lack of space.