Wheat crisis persists



DESPITE efforts of the Government to ensure availability of the wheat flour to the people at affordable rates, the wheat crisis persists, mainly because of the non-cooperative attitude of the mills. The millers in Punjab are obviously resisting measures introduced by the federal and the provincial governments to handle the situation effectively as is evident from their decision not to lift their wheat quota (of subsidized commodity) and stop supply of wheat flour to the market, a move that would push the prices of flour further high.

In this backdrop, the Punjab Government has taken a decision to permanently cut the share of wheat quota of striking flour mills which have failed to provide flour to masses on subsidized rates. All deputy directors of the food department have been instructed to prepare lists of striking and non-striking mills. The department has decided to devise a policy that quota of striking mills would be reduced permanently to a percentage on strike call. This is the logical decision as millers, instead of ensuring that the wheat lifted at subsidized rates is not used for windfall profit, are trying to blackmail the authorities and the Government will have to establish its writ. In fact, it is because of the weak governance that mafias of different sorts are exploiting the situation as is evident from black-marketing of petroleum products and artificial shortage of wheat.

Increase in electricity and gas tariff and hike in the prices of POL products can be justified to some extent but it is ironic that in a country that boasts to be predominantly agrarian people should be forced to buy their staple food at Rs. 150 and in some cases at Rs. 160 a kilogram. No doubt, the Government is trying to minimize the woes of the people by selling bags of wheat flour at subsidized rates through the outlets of the Utility Stores Corporation and mobile sales points but the majority of the citizens has no access to these facilities.

While welcoming the decision of the Punjab Government, we would urge that a permanent and sustainable mechanism should be evolved to ensure supply of wheat to the people at affordable prices. No doubt, the country is facing the shortage due to destruction of crops by rains and floods but the Government took a timely decision to import wheat and there was no reason for its shortage. It is also argued that the decision to provide 700,000 tons of wheat to feed mills and rampant smuggling to Afghanistan and beyond is also compounding the situation. This aspect should be addressed effectively besides keeping a strict vigil on the market forces.