ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan approved on Friday an unprecedented relief package of Rs6 billion to provide consumers five essential items on discounted rates at Utility Stores Corporation outlets throughout the country.

Under the package, rice, flour, pulses, sugar and edible oil/ghee will be available at 4,000 USC outlets at subsidised rates from Dec 1. The prime minister asked the USC to complete the procurement of these commodities and its subsequent packaging within three weeks.

The package covers a period of three months for all consumers. It will be replaced with a targeted subsidy programme for needy people through Ehsaas Cards Scheme to be launched after three months.

The relief package includes a grant of Rs4bn for procurement of the five commodities and Rs2bn for subsidising the prices of these items. Under the package, the government will provide a subsidy of Rs132 per 20kg on flour, Rs20 per kg on rice, Rs9 on one kilogram of sugar, Rs30 per kg/litre on ghee/oil and Rs15 per kg on pulses.

Under the package, five essential commodities will be available at 4,000 USC outlets at discounted rates

Prime Minister Khan said the provision of relief to people was a top priority of his government. “We strive to provide special relief to low-income groups and poverty-stricken families,” he said, adding that in view of the challenging economic situation, the government had taken difficult decisions.

He directed the USC administration to ensure immediate and uninterrupted availability of essential food items to the public after the release of Rs6bn.

As per the directive of the prime minister, the Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Supply Corporation (Passco) will provide 200,000 tonnes of wheat to the USC to maintain the quality and quantity of flour at reduced rates.

PM Khan held three consecutive meetings on the issue in three days. The package was approved at a meeting attended among others by Minister for Planning and Development Khusro Bakhtiar, Minister for Communications Murad Saeed and Special Assistant to the PM on Social Welfare Dr Sania Nishtar.

The meeting was briefed on the current situation of the prices of flour, wheat, sugar, ghee, rice and pulses and the measures to control them.

USC chairman Zulqiurnain Ali Khan briefed the premier on the steps taken to curb corruption and embezzlement in the corporation and to ensure sufficient and steady supply of essential food items to the public. He said it was being ensured that the purchased items at the Utility Stores were received at the USC warehouses without pilferage for packaging and onward dispatch to its outlets. The measures were aimed at ensuring the quality of goods at the Utility Stores, in addition to eradicating corruption, he added.

However, the prime minister said it should be ensured through use of information technology and corruption must be eradicated at all USC outlets.

Murad Saeed said that in addition to a network of 4,000 Utility Stores, 800 post offices spread across the country could also be used to supply essential food items to the public. He said home delivery service would soon be started by the Pakistan Post Office to supply items to the poor and the needy.

After the meeting, USC managing director Umer Lodhi told Dawn that the package would provide immediate relief to the low-income people. The package will also revive sales at the USC outlets which have considerably dropped over the past few years.

Mr Lodhi said that it was a big challenge for the USC to complete the procurement in three weeks’ time and repack items and supply them to USC outlets across the country. “We have assured the premier that we would do the job within the projected time,” he said.

On the issue of misuse of the facility, Mr Lodhi said that a strong vigilance system would be in place to curb any such practice, adding that action would be taken against those responsible for selling these products for commercial purposes. “We will introduce special packing of these products,” he said.

Prime Minister Khan informed the meeting that due to government’s decisions the economy was stabilising and economic indicators were showing improvement and the situation would improve further in the coming days. “Despite the difficult conditions, every possible effort to provide relief to the people will be undertaken,” he added.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2019