–PM orders action against millers responsible for ‘illegal price hike’
–KP, Punjab suffer as expensive flour takes a toll on people; Punjab govt promises uninterrupted flour supply to KP
–Opp calls out PTI govt over ‘incompetence’ to keep flour prices under check
LAHORE/PESHAWAR: As the flour crisis began to bite consumers across the country, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday sprang into action and ordered a countrywide crackdown on elements responsible for “illegal price hike” and hoarding the commodity.
On Friday — for the second time in a month — the price of flour went up by up to Rs6 per kg across the country with the commodity being sold at Rs70 per kg in Lahore, Karachi, and other cities.
According to Flour Mills Association, the hike was due to lack of subsidy from the government.
“The price was increased after a surge in wheat price,” a statement issued by the association read. “The situation has worsened because of the government’s [new] electricity and gas tariff,” it added.
The PM directed the officials to take effective measures for stabilising the rates of wheat flour and directed the officials concerned to act against people involved in creating “an artificial crisis of flour” in the country.
To fix the situation, the government planned to release 0.1 million tonnes of wheat to KP from the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (PASSCO) and also import 0.3 million tonnes to cater to the need across the country.
KP WORST AFFECTED:
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is worst affected by the flour shortage after Punjab banned supply to the province to fix its own crisis earlier this week.
According to details, there was only two-day flour stock left which led to an Rs5 per kg increase in the price. The dealers said that delivery from Punjab has been halted completely.
As KP people suffer owing to expensive flour, the provincial information minister, Shaukat Yousafzai, has ‘advised’ people not to eat ‘fine flour’ –that ‘gives cancer as per the minister’— imported from Punjab and instead choose ‘local whole-eat flour’. However, this is not the first time the KP minister has come up with such a stupid response to a problem.
He questioned why the naanbais [tandoors] prefer fine flour from Punjab instead of local subsidized flour.
In response to the minister, a naanbai said that the locally produced flour was of poor quality, which was why they opted for flour coming from out of the province.
Meanwhile, the Nanbai Association Peshawar announced to go on strike across the province next Monday over the failure of its talks with the provincial government and district administration over roti price.
“If the roti price wasn’t increased by the administration in line with the escalating price of wheat flour, naanbais would close shops for an indefinite period,” he was quoted by a local media as saying.
‘PUNJAB PROMISES TO UNINTERRUPTED SUPPLY TO KP:
Meanwhile, Punjab and KP government officials held a video-link meeting in order to ensure uninterrupted transportation of wheat and flour from Punjab to KP.
During the meeting, KP Chief Secretary Dr Kazim Niaz informed his counterpart about the problems being faced at borders during transportation of wheat and flour from Punjab to KP.
Punjab CS Azam Suleman Khan assured that all necessary arrangements would be made to resolve these problems and instructions have been issued to relevant authorities in this regard.
The meeting decided that concerned officers of food departments of both the provinces would keep close liaison to get the required results regarding wheat and flour availability.
The chief secretary assured that as soon as data about flour mills that send supply to KP is received it would be shared with the relevant authorities to ensure free transportation of wheat and flour.
The KP CS said that all kind of cooperation would be extended to Punjab regarding cross-border movement so that wheat and flour smuggling could be controlled.
After the price hike, the concerned authorities in Punjab have warned the chakki operators against ‘unapproved’ increase of Rs6 per kg in the price of wheat flour.
The food department suspended licences of 15 mills and withheld wheat quota of 180 others following reports that these were either selling in the open market the subsidised grain consignments received from the government or simply smuggling the supplies out of the province.
An emergency meeting presided over by Chief Minister Usman Buzdar took stock of the demand and supply position of flour in the province. Food Minister Samiullah Chaudhry joined in through the video link.
The officials decided to take immediate administrative measures to restore the officially notified rate of flour and mobilised the food department and police apparatus to monitor misuse of the subsidised wheat supplies.
The food department claims that following the instructions it has acted against 376 flour mills imposing Rs90.6m fine and suspended licences of 15 mills and wheat quota of 180 others.
On the other hand, tandoor owners have set a seven-day deadline for the government to control the flour price otherwise they will increase the rates of roti and naan.
They threatened an increase in the prices of roti from Rs6 to 10 and of naan from Rs10 to Rs15. Naan-Roti Association president Aftab Aslam Gill has given a seven-day ultimatum to the government to control the wheat products’ prices otherwise they will be forced to shift the flour price hike onto their customers.
Sindh and Balochistan are facing a shortage of flour and a subsequent increase in the price of the commodity. The mill owners accused the provincial food department of creating a wheat crisis in provinces.
National Assembly Opposition Leader Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, who is in London for over a month now, slammed the surge in prices of wheat flour across Pakistan.
The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) president urged the government to reveal the truth about why Pakistan was facing a shortage of the basic food commodity.
Shehbaz Sharif had said that it was the right of the people to know what happened to wheat stocks of the country.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal-Bhutto also denounced the hike in the prices and said that the government was too incompetent to provide relief to the people. He said the government warehouses were full of flour, but it was not unavailable to common people. He said the increase in flour prices twice this week was a testament to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) incompetence.