Wheat crisis persists

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CONTINUATION of the wheat/wheat flour crisis is reflective of the dismal state of affairs as lack of a coherent and clear strategy as well as poor writ of the Government has left the masses at the mercy of market manipulators. Wheat flour prices surged by Rs. 6 per kilogram on Friday over reports of shortage of the grain whereas Minister for Food Security Syed Fakhar Imam Friday told the National Assembly about mysterious disappearance of wheat from the government stocks saying that 0.7 million ton wheat would be imported to meet the shortage.
It is a great tragedy that the country was facing shortage of wheat soon after harvesting and procurement of the commodity. There is no doubt that the wheat production this year was not enough to meet the domestic plus Afghan requirements and that is why a few weeks back a decision was taken by the Government for import of the commodity but shortage of wheat is shocking when PASSCO and provincial governments have just completed their procurement drives and sufficient stocks of the wheat are available in stocks. It is all the more shocking that wheat disappeared from Government stocks and no one knows where it has gone. All this is happening despite investigation of wheat and sugar scandals and availability of comprehensive reports on the crises pinpointing the responsibility. Unfortunately, so far, the reports have been used for political point-scoring and not resolving the issues involved as there is no let in shortages and also the prices are going up whereas these should have come down. We have been emphasizing in these columns repeatedly that firm administrative action is needed to deal with the artificial shortage of wheat and sugar. The prices are going up because of hoarding and smuggling and the authorities concerned have miserably failed to check these menaces despite warnings at the highest level. At a time when there is no effective check against smuggling, there is logic to continue ban on inter-provincial movement of wheat but some influential people are pressurizing against lifting of the restrictions, an approach that would surely benefit smugglers. Any increase in prices of food items directly affects the common man and therefore, the Government should have moved firmly at the very onset of the problem. All this is happening in a year that was promised to be year of relief for inflation-ridden people and a budget that ignored plight of fixed income groups. The continued manipulation of the situation is a challenge to the writ of the Government, which must be enforced to safeguard interest of the common man. Lax attitude would aggravate the crisis in weeks to come especially when there is also no apparent solid move to import wheat as decided earlier.

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