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April 7, 2021

Punjab ban on inter-district movement of wheat angers millers, farmers


April 7, 2021

LAHORE: Ban imposed on inter-district movement of wheat in South Punjab has angered farmers and flour millers alike, who have criticised the provincial food department for what they called an unwarranted intervention.

The District Food Controller (DFC), Bahawalpur issued a letter for appointment of staff at 12 check posts established in the district for stopping wheat transportation out of administrative boundaries.

“In order to ensure the smooth wheat procurement campaign and to achieve the wheat procurement target of scheme 2021-22, food officials and staff are hereby posted at the mentioned check posts to check / prevent the illegal movement of wheat out of district, with immediate effect in the public interest till further order,” he stated in a communique dated April 3, 2021.

Assistant Commissioner, Hasilpur, District Bahawalpur in a letter issued on the same day sought deployment of police force for the necessary assistance of deputed food and Civil Defence staff at each check post to stop illegal transportation of wheat from all the entry / exit points of the district.

The ban imposed by the authorities invited anger of farmers and flour millers who termed it against the free market mechanism.

They added that the provincial Food Department would start buying of wheat from April 15 and there was no logic whatsoever to impose such restrictions.

“The ban in wheat movement resulted in sluggish trend in wheat prices. The selling price of wheat has nosedived to as low as Rs1,620 per 40kg against the Rs1,800 support price announced by the provincial government,” said Rao Afsar, a small-scale farmer hailing from Rajanpur District.

The sharp decline in wheat purchase price was due to the fact that local staff of Food Department, along with middlemen, district administration and police, have sharpened their teeth against hapless growers with complete impunity, he alleged, while talking to this scribe on phone.

As government imposed an unannounced ban on inter-district transportation of wheat and refrained flour mills from buying, middlemen were freely buying wheat from farmers by paying just 10 percent of throwaway price (Rs1,620 to Rs1,670/40kg). Remaining amount would be paid to farmers after reselling wheat bought from growers to the Food Department, claimed Afsar.

Zafar Iqbal, anther farmer from the area was of the view that the lopsided wheat buying practice was against the interest of growers as well as the consumers. Not only farmers were deprived of their due return, but consumers would also suffer as flour mills were unable to purchase relatively cheap grains.

Grower was of the view that wheat movement within the province should be allowed so that they could sell their produce at reasonable rates. At present, not only Food Department was absent from the market, flour mills were also not being permitted to buy the commodity from the farmers, he regretted.

On the other hand, contrary to wheat policy 2021-22, the unannounced ban on buying of wheat by flour mills has virtually been in place. “Flour mills are being forced to get permit for purchase of grain and trucks loaded with wheat are being stopped at posts set up at borders of districts on one pretext or another,” said flour mill owners.

In a letter written to Prime Minister Imran Khan, a group of Progressive Flour Mills deplored restrictions imposed by the government on purchase of wheat. On papers, the provincial government has granted permission to the private sector regarding grain purchase during ongoing harvesting season.

This was apparently a departure from last year’s approach under which flour mills were not allowed to Participate in wheat buying.

According to the Wheat Procurement Policy 2021, Punjab Food Department allowed flour mills to buy wheat and store purchased grains at the godowns declared in Food Grains License.

However, flour mills will not be allowed trading wheat, it added.

Despite stated policy, Khaleeque Arshad and Majid Abdullah, who are progressive flour millers, alleged that flour mills were not being allowed to buy wheat from growers.

They termed the action of the provincial food department counterproductive.

Mill owners used to sell flour to masses till September every year from the wheat they bought themselves. If they were not allowed to buy wheat, the provincial food department would be left with no option but to release wheat to flour mills early, putting extra burden of subsidy on provincial government, they said.

Hence, they demanded the PM to intervene in this issue and allow private sector purchase of wheat as per their proven market share which would be a win-win situation for growers, consumers and the flour industry.

Meanwhile, when contacted, a senior official of the Punjab Food Department did not comment on the complaints of farmers and flour millers over restrictions on transportation of wheat.

On the other hand, the department has launched an app for reserving gunny bags for wheat selling to the government. Any farmer can download this app to get their gunny bags reserved with much ease, said an announcement.