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Thursday May 30, 2024

Food department told to justify inter-district wheat movement ban

By Jamal Khurshid
June 01, 2023

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Wednesday directed the food secretary to justify the ban on the inter-district movement of wheat in the province, particularly its movement to Karachi. The direction came on a petition of the Flour Mills Association against the ban on the movement of wheat from one district to another district of the province, and to Karachi in particular.

An SHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Ahmed Ali M Sheikh and Justice Yousuf Ali Sayeed asked the food secretary about the details of wheat supply to different flour mills in the province. The court asked the food secretary what the criteria was to restrict the movement of wheat from one district to another district of the province. The court said that it was the contention of the petitioner that Karachi was not being supplied wheat according to its reserved quota. The court also said wheat is harvested from Badin to Ubauro, so how is there a shortage of wheat in the province.

The court asked the food secretary if he is aware what price wheat is being sold at. The court also asked the food secretary to explain why wheat could not be moved from one district to another district, while nobody knew when it was shifted to Afghanistan.The food secretary said Karachi’s flour mills have been allocated 400 metric tonnes of wheat, and sought time to file comments on the petition. The court directed the provincial law officer and the food secretary to submit their comments explaining the reasons for banning the inter-district movement of wheat in the province, particularly its movement to Karachi, on the next date of hearing.

The Flour Mills Association and other petitioners said that 92 flour mills were operating in Karachi, but since the Karachi Division was not a wheat growing or procurement area, flour mills operating there were exclusively dependent on the supply of wheat from other districts of the province and other provinces of the country.Their counsels Mian Raza Rabbani and Zeeshan Abdullah said that the petitioners’ members purchased wheat from the open market and the provincial government, but the government invoked Section 3 of the Sindh Food Stuff (Control) Act and fixed the price of wheat at Rs3,000 per 40 kilograms.

They said the government also fixed the procurement target by itself at 1.4 million metric tonnes to avoid any shortage. They said the food minister informed the assembly that the target of 1.4 million metric tonnes for wheat procurement had been met, and the government had also imported 400,000 metric tonnes of wheat. The counsels said that there was no justification after the statement of the food minister for continuing with the ban on the inter-district and inter-provincial movement of wheat. They said the food department, through the commissioners of different divisions of the province, had unlawfully restricted and prevented the inter-district and inter-provincial movement of wheat.

They also said the government has issued a notification imposing Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in districts and divisions, resulting in police pickets having been put up, and officers and staff of the food department having been deployed without the support of any law.These officials stop and/or impound vehicles carrying wheat bags to Karachi Division, they added. The counsels said that restrictions, in any manner whatsoever, on trade, commerce and intercourse throughout Pakistan is in violation of Article 151 of the 1973 constitution. The court was requested to declare that the petitioners have the right to procure wheat for their flour mills from any and all districts of Sindh and other parts of the country, and as such any ban on the movement of wheat, inter-district and inter-provincial, is illegal.

They requested the court to direct the respondent to lift the ban, direct or indirect, imposed on the inter-district movement of wheat in the province, in particular to Karachi Division, and allow the inter-provincial movement of wheat in accordance with Article 151 of the constitution.