The flour crisis in the country has initiated a debate across the various segments of the society to find out who exactly is responsible for this situation that added to the hardships and sufferings of the Pakistanis who are already engaged in the combat of survival. All the political parties are busy in point scoring through blaming others while the life of common person is getting worst with every coming dawn. Looking deeply into the scenario it is observed that the said crisis didn’t break out at once and the reverberations of the shortage had been waving in the air for quite a few days but the authorities were enjoying a sound sleep with sweet dreams.
Then came the twist in the story when government had to wake up at the desperate call from the media that came up with live recordings of people queuing up outside shops to buy wheat flour at extortionate prices. The machinery suddenly came into action and it was claimed by the officials that there was no such crisis and a false propaganda had been executed by the opposition parties. Meanwhile the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) also permitted the import of 0.3m tonnes of grain by the end of March to cope with the wheat shortfall and tackle market sentiments until the next harvest.
About the flour price and availability crises the federal minister for food scrutiny had announced on Sunday that prices would be normalized by coming Tuesday and soon the crises is going to be over. Government had made the announcement a day before the strike call by the nanbais in the KPK against the supply shortage and the forceful stability of price of roti.
Makhdoom Khusroo Bakhtiar, Minister for National Food Security & Research had claimed that flour shortage had resulted because of a ban by the Punjab Government on inter province wheat movement as well as the transporter’s strike in Karachi. He was addressing a press conference on Sunday in Islamabad. He said that both problems had been addressed and the grain supply had been restored. He assured the public for a stability in price by Tuesday. Mr Bakhtiar had expressed his opinion that sufficient stocks of wheat were available and the crisis created was artificial. He had also demanded strict actions against the people involved in the same.
“Ban on inter province wheat movement from Punjab and transporters’ strike created flour shortage”, said Bakhtiar
Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Special Adviser of Prime Minister on information had accused that the PPP Led Sindh Government was delaying to lift the allocated wheat share from Passco and hence the crisis had been created. Dr Awan had accused the Sindh Government about “miserably failing” in fulfilling the demand & supply gap in Sindh to control the flour crises. She also alleged that artificial shortage of flour and wheat was created by a mafia who had purchased heavy quantity from local market for earning more as well as laundering the black money stored by them. She was briefing the media in Sialkot. She added that Federal Government was working for breaking the nexus of the said mafia and overcoming the crises. In her opinion the Sindh government had failed in timely supplying the wheat to flour mills due to its negligence in timely procurement of wheat.
Murad Ali Shah, Chief Minister told media that 300,000 toones wheat had been procured from Passco. Out of the total 70,000 bags were hauled from Punjab and Balochistan to Karachi. He said Sind Government had hired NLC (National Logistic Cell) to lift the wheat from other provinces to Hyderabad and Karachi to overcome the issue of transporters’ strike.
Mr Rahu said was also hopeful that the retail flour rate will be restored to Rs. 45 per kg by Wednesday. He however said that the causes of crises included the strike as well as locking of Sindh’s Rs. 150 billion (share in federal divisible pool) by the Federation which delayed the wheat procurement.
The Balochistan government had also ordered a crackdown against flour mills and hoarders. The crises is also prevailing in Balochistan where the per Kg price has increased to Rs. 65 from Rs. 43. Sardar Abdul Rahman Khethran, the provincial food minister said that the authorities had cracked smuggling of wheat to Afghanistan. New supplies of 50,000 tonnes wheat would reach the market within 10 days. Another reason behind the crises was the loss caused to the wheat stocks in godowns by heavy rains and flood. He rejected the criticism against his government by saying that the crises was across entire country.
Opposition Leader in National Assembly Mr. Shahbaz Sharif had questioned the wheat and flour export in the last quarter of 2019 and asked for investigation of the “scam”. He had issued a statement from London saying, “When there was shortage of wheat and flour in the country, then who ordered export and at what rate? The nation must know who benefited from the loss of the country?”
“We have to point out reasons behind the destruction of each and every sector during the past 16 month [rule of the PTI]?”. Meanwhile shutdown strike had been announced by Nanbai Association Peshawar in KPK. The shut down call was given in response to decline of price raise demand by the administration.
Representatives of Nanbai Association Peshawar Haji Mohammad Iqbal and Khaista Gul told media that the Peshawar Commissioner had asked them to delay the strike for a week. They said that they had to reject the option since with such condition they were unable to carry on their business. Prices of bag of 85Kg flour has increased to Rs. 5,100 from Rs. 4,100 while the government has forced them that the weight and price of roti must be unchanged.
Shehbaz Sharif demanded a legal retribution against culprits of Wheat scam
Shaukat Yousufzai Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had told media that Punjab government had lifted the ban in response to the complaints about restriction on wheat supply . “Now the flour is available in abundance and there is no justification for increasing the roti price.”, said Yousufzai
CM Punjab also took notice of the flour hoarding and dashed to Juranwala suspend an assistant food controller and station house officer. He also ordered to suspend district food controller of Sahiwal on account of failing to check hoarding.
An important question that is always bothering the various minds is “whether there will be a time when the governments will adopt pro-active approach to counter the problems that take the form of a crisis otherwise ; as a stitch in time, saves nine”.