Flour crossing

March 12, 2023

As the holy month of Ramazan draws near, the city administration has sprung into action to thwart the efforts of hoarders to smuggle flour and other essential food items from the Punjab to...

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As the holy month of Ramazan draws near, the city administration has sprung into action to thwart the efforts of hoarders to smuggle flour and other essential food items from the Punjab to Afghanistan via Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

In a recent move in the wake of the acute shortage of flour, the administration seized a huge quantity of flour that was being smuggled to the KP. The administration also enhanced vigilance on the flour mill owners allegedly involved in the smuggling which deprives the citizens of the subsidy meant to support the poor strata of the society.

Long queues can be witnessed at the subsidised flour points in the provincial metropolis. It is pertinent to note that earlier the subsidised flour was being sold in the black market in the Punjab at Rs 700-800 per 10kg bag, instead of Rs 648. In Lahore, chakki atta was selling for Rs 160 per kg.

In order to ensure the smooth supply of subsidised flour to the public, the district government has set up 101 checkpoints across the city. However, this does not seem to have had an impact on the flour shortage which has assumed alarming proportions ahead of Ramazan.

Meanwhile, the Punjab government has raised the flour prices, making the life harder for the common man. The raise is take effect in April. Administration sources say, the new price of a 10kg flour bag is to be Rs 960.

It may also be mentioned here that the flour mills had earlier announced a strike across the Punjab after they couldn’t settle dispute with the Food Department over wheat quota and raids to check inventories.

Smuggling has exacerbated the flour problem in the province, pushing its open-market prices to an all-time high. Sources say a significant fraction of the subsidised flour is being routinely smuggled to Sindh and the KP.

Food Secretary Muhammad Zaman Wattoo says the government is conducting inspection raids across the province to foil all attempts to smuggle flour out of Lahore. Last year, the Food Department had unearthed an inter-provincial gang involved in smuggling and selling of subsidised wheat flour at market prices. The members of the gang had admitted that they had misappropriated thousands of bags of subsidised flour in Lahore. They had set up a plant at a secret warehouse where bran was extracted from the flour procured from retailers. The flour was then converted to the ‘fine’ variety and smuggled to KP.

In January, the city administration confiscated 1,325 flour bags of 10kg each, that had been stored in a warehouse. An FIR was lodged and several shops were sealed in Cantt, Shalimar, City, Raiwind and Model Town tehsils.

According to Wattoo, efforts are being made to ensure an uninterrupted supply of subsidised flour to the needy citizens of Lahore. “No laxity or dereliction on the part of the Food Department officials will be tolerated,” he tells TNS. “We are keeping an eye on the supply chain of subsidised flour from the mills to the dealers and then to the end users.”

He claims that the supply of flour in the city has improved since the inspection of mills was initiated. According to him it is being ensured that the flour is available in the market at the rates fixed by the government.

He says that strict action will be taken against any mill owner found guilty of corruption. Owing to irregularities, the quota of a number of flour mills has been suspended already. None has been sealed yet, but the food secretary says that no compromise will be made on delivering the subsidy to the targeted citizens.

He says some members of the Flour Mills Owners’ Association, who were found involved in irregularities, have threatened to go on strike in the province. “The good part is that a majority of mill owners aren’t supporting such elements.

“If as many as 25 percent of the mill owners in the Punjab cooperate with the government, there will be no shortage of flour in the province.”

Pakistan Flour Mills Association chairman, Asim Raza, says the association has received assurance from the administration that the inspection of the mills will continue in accordance with the standard operating procedures (SOPs). He says the food secretary will be informed in case of an official of the department trying to overstep the mark.

The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at ahsanzia155gmail.com

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