WHEAT CRISIS IN SINDH
Aug 14 - 20, 2000
Federal government has lifted the ban on inter-provincial movement of wheat, now Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan governments and flour millers are able to procure wheat directly from the open market in Punjab. The decision highly lauded by the provinces because flour mills of these provinces and consumers have been facing many problems due to ban on free movement. Chief Executive Pakistan has already given approval to lift all sorts of ban on free inter-provincial movement of wheat and its product.
It was long standing demand of provinces to allow them to purchase wheat from Punjab directly because it was the main cause of price hike and price discrepancies among the provinces despite surplus production of wheat. Flour mills of these provinces were also insecure about their future, Sindh has been facing two folded problems at one hand it has its quota suspended since April and on the other hand inter-provincial ban on wheat movement compelled them to purchase wheat from open market at higher rates to meet the demand.
Talking to PAGE, Malik Nazir Ahmed, Chairman Pakistan Flour Mills Association (Sindh Circle) said, government has taken rational decision because it has been the main detriment to provide the flour to the consumers at cheaper rates and to prevail same prices of flour among the provinces. Now we don't need to purchase wheat from open market at higher rate and we are in a position to smoothly provide quality flour at reasonable prices by freely purchasing from Punjab.
He criticized the decision by the Punjab government to take a totally unilateral decision keeping prior their own interests to allow Punjab flour mills to supply flour to other provinces as ban on inter-provincial free movement of wheat in the provinces was still there. The flour mills of Sindh, Balochistan and NWFP were facing severe crises due to the barrier. He specifically pointed out the fact that Karachi is being paid high prices as compared to other cities now they will have a sigh of relief because this decision raises hopes to cut down the prices of wheat and its products for final consumers.
75 per cent of the wheat of the country is produced in Punjab, so lifting the ban on free flow of flour in the provinces will reduce the burden of other provinces. If flour mills of Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan not allowed to purchase wheat from Punjab growers directly to process into flour then the price discrepancies would remain among the provinces. At one hand it will adversely affect the flour mills' business and on the other hand price hike will be going on in provinces of wheat deficient specially in Karachi.
Nazir also appreciated the decision by Sindh Government to restore the suspended quota but he also demanded to increase the quota for Sindh and Karachi because presently Sindh Government is supplying 50,000 tonnes which is not enough to meet the demand. Recently the open market price of wheat in Karachi is Rs 925 per 100 Kg which was about Rs 725 per 100 Kg previously. Now prices of wheat will also bring down in open market due to the decision.
Explaining the justification to increase the wheat quota for Karachi, he said, currently Sindh government has 18,00000 tonnes wheat in its stock out of which 200,000 for emergency use, Sindh and Karachi need 80000 and 120000 tonnes respectively for its flour mills. Sindh government can easily provide 200000 tonnes to Sindh in coming eight months till new crops in the market, so their reluctance seems senseless to increase the quota for Karachi despite having capacity.
Federal Agricultural Minister Dr Shafqat Ali Shah Jamote said that the decision was taken after developing a consensus among the wheat surplus and wheat deficient provinces. Regarding the smuggling, minister denied the possibility of wheat shortage as adequate arrangements were made to stop smuggling to Afghanistan. As govenment is already supplying wheat to Afghanistan on government to government basis, 1 million tonnes of wheat sold to Afghanistan. The three provinces has been allocated 2.5 million tonnes of wheat from Punjab that would end burden of storage in Punjab.
Wheat must be a subject of free movement like other agricultural products in Pakistan. Lifting ban will definitely help to reduce the problems of wheat deficient provinces and to maintain same price of wheat in all provinces. Besides this extended quota should be allowed to Karachi in order to cater the need of the largest populated city of the country. It is a prior right of the consumers in Pakistan to enjoy the surplus wheat status of Pakistan.