Wheat, flour crisis is artificial: minister

January 22, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research, Khusro Bakhtiar, claimed in the Senate that four million tons of wheat were available in the public sector and even at the...

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ISLAMABAD: The Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research, Khusro Bakhtiar, claimed in the Senate that four million tons of wheat were available in the public sector and even at the end of the season, 0.85 million tonnes would still be available in stocks.

Winding up the debate on the wheat crisis in the House on Tuesday, the minister said the crisis emerged because of disturbance in the supply chain, particularly in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He added Punjab had 4.8 million tons of wheat in the public sector and PASSCO procured two million tones. He said Sindh initially informed of the availability of 0.8 million tons of wheat but later said it has 0.7 million tons only, without explaining what happened to the one lakh tons. Sindh, Bakhtiyar said, is not in the habit of keeping a single grain in reserves.

The opposition senators rejected the minister’s claims and strongly agitated and pressed the chair for referring the issue to the House standing committee. The issue was thereafter referred to the committee and now its report would be presented to the House by its Chairman Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah.

The minister for food security emphasized it was the federal government’s responsibility to keep an eye on food security and 0.4 million tonnes were spared for Sindh and 0.45 million tonnes for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from the PASSCO stocks. During the last one and a half month, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was lifting about 2,000-3,000 tons and Sindh about 150-200 tons daily.

Bakhtiyar said 14 days ago, Sindh tasked the NLC to lift 0.3 million tonnes but that could not happen due to the transporters’ strike. However, the federal government has now allowed the Sindh government to lift 10,000 tons daily and hopefully by Tuesday, it would be taking away 12,000-13,000 tons per day. Due to the supply, the flour in Karachi is being sold at Rs60 per kg and Rs52 per kg in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the federal minister claimed. Fearing that the subsidized wheat could be smuggled to Afghanistan, the Punjab government had applied certain checks, which led to disturbances in the supply.

The federal minister was confident that with the availability of stocks, the cost of flour would drop shortly. He explained that the Punjab government had decided to additionally supply 4,000-5,000 tons to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. And, now the federal government had evolved a mechanism in coordination with the provincial governments to end the artificial shortfall of wheat in some parts of Pakistan. He said the supply chain would ensure that there is no wheat shortage this year. The government, he said, is expecting a better wheat crop and subsequent yield and the PTI government had already raised the minimum support price of wheat from Rs1,300 to Rs 1,365 per 40 kg, after a gap of four years, to encourage the farmers.

About other measures, he said since the Punjab produced 80 percent of total wheat, 50 percent production would be based on the certified seed. He said on the directions of prime minister, the ECC had massively slashed duty, which the fertilizers companies were collecting from farmers but not providing to the government. Now, due to this step, the farmers would get a urea bag on 20 percent less cost.

The Leader of Opposition, Raja Muhammad Zafarul Haq, rose to say that it appeared from the minister’s statement that the government has come to senses only after the entire country agitated on the severe wheat crisis. He said it looks if the lack of planning and seriousness has led to the crisis. “It is a very serious issue and may be referred to the House standing committee on National Food Security for deliberations and report,” he proposed. The Senate Chairman, Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani, referred the issue to the relevant standing committee.

Speaking next, the PPP parliamentary leader, Senator Sherry Rehman, emphasized that the standing committee be time-bound to furnish the report early and the minister must ensure his presence in the committee meeting.

Rehman wondered how many crises the rulers would unleash in the country, as already there were crises of gas, electricity, water and even tomato. She alleged that 40,000 metric tonnes of wheat was exported to Afghanistan during the countrywide shortages.

PTI Senator Nauman Wazir Khattak talked about deprivation of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and suggested to Senator Usman Kakar, who heads the functional committee on less developed areas, to interact with people of that province. Khattak pointed out that how could there be ease of doing business and how would the investors come and invest when there is shortage of gas and pointed out that a factory in Jehangira, which annually paid Rs700 million in taxes, remained shut the whole last month due to non-availability of gas.

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