Wheat row: Senators demand apology from govt for making ‘mockery of people’

Updated January 20, 2020

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Sheikh Rashid had said that people eat more bread in November and December, which has caused the wheat shortage. — APP/File
Sheikh Rashid had said that people eat more bread in November and December, which has caused the wheat shortage. — APP/File

Members of the Senate on Monday lambasted the government for the wheat shortage and rising prices of essential commodities in the country, while also condemning a federal minister’s remarks on the issue, which they said made “a mockery of the people of Pakistan”.

“This issue concerns the people of Pakistan,” said Senator Sirajul Haq, the head of Jamaat-e-Islami, during Monday’s session. “Pakistan is an agricultural economy,” he said, adding that it is the eighth-largest wheat producing country in the world. “Despite this, the people of Pakistan are desperate for roti [bread],” lamented Haq.

“What is cruel is that a federal minister, standing among people, says that people eat more bread in November and December, which has caused the [wheat] shortage,” said Haq. “Do these people have hearts of stone?” he questioned, adding that the minister had made a joke out of the people of Pakistan.

Haq was referring to Federal Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid’s remarks at a press conference on Saturday, where he was asked about the wheat shortage. “In November and December, people eat more bread than usual,” Rashid had said, eliciting laughter from the room. “It’s not a joke, a study backs my claims,” he had added.

During the Senate session, Haq and other senators censured the government for Rashid’s remarks. “The world is making fun of us, saying people have walked on the moon and in Pakistan, people are waiting in lines for a bag of wheat.”

Haq’s comments were echoed by Senator Usman Kakar of the Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party, who questioned who was responsible for the crisis. “The main culprit is the anti-people government and those who have imposed it on the people,” said Kakar. “They have made life difficult. People haven’t voted for them, which is why they are continuously punishing people,” he added.

Kakar lamented that the prices of all essential commodities had increased by around 13 per cent to 15pc on average, while some items were being sold for up to 200% more than the previous price. “Naan [bread] was sold for Rs20 in Quetta, but is now being sold for Rs40,” he said.

“And then you are even making fun of the people,” he said, referring to Sheikh Rashid’s remarks. “The opposition should take a stand against the government until they apologise to the people,” said Kakar.

Govt steps up efforts to control situation

Earlier on Monday, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) approved the import of 0.3 million tonnes of wheat without regulatory duty.

The ECC also asked the Punjab government and the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) to release wheat stocks in order to overcome a country-wide shortage.

A statement issued by the finance ministry said that Punjab and Passco have approximately 41 tonnes of wheat stocks available.

Blame game

On Sunday, the opposition and centre had continued to bicker over who was to blame for the fast declining wheat reserves in the country.

While the PTI had laid the blame squarely on the Sindh government, citing untimely purchasing and a subsequent shortage in supply to the flour mills, the Sindh government had taken exception to being the target of "a dirty blame game" and in turn held the prime minister responsible.

Meanwhile, the PPP and PML-N had alleged that despite a shortage in reserves of wheat, the commodity had been exported.

Further, leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif had demanded an inquiry to determine who had authorised the move.