A woman purchases wheat flour at the official rate from a mill in the Korangi Industrial Area on Monday.—APP
A woman purchases wheat flour at the official rate from a mill in the Korangi Industrial Area on Monday.—APP

KARACHI: Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah on Monday asked the relevant authorities to raid the warehouses across the province where wheat had been hoarded and take action against those involved in it.

Keeping in view the artificial wheat shortage created by hoarders in the province, he ordered crackdown on the traders to ensure illegally stored grain could be floated in the market to stabilise the price of flour.

Besides, he asked the officials to procure more wheat from the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) to stem the worsening flour crisis that has gravely affected the whole country.

“We’ll never permit anyone to hoard wheat etc,” said Mr Shah while presiding over a meeting at the CM House.

Ministers for food and agriculture Hari Ram Kishorilal and Ismail Rahu, Adviser to the CM on Law Murtaza Wahab, Chief Secretary Mumtaz Shah, the principal secretary to the CM and secretaries for finance, food and forests attended the meeting.

‘Sindh only province with functioning local government system’

The chief minister said he had reports that some traders had hoarded wheat in their warehouses that increased the price of the staple in the market.

“We can’t [leave] poor people of this province at the mercy of hoarders,” he said and asked the chief secretary to start an operation against hoarders under the guidance of commissioners concerned and whatever force, police or Rangers, they needed must be provided to them.

Briefing the chief minister, Secretary Food Laiq Ahmed said as on Jan 13, the stock position was 405,938.549 tonnes of wheat lying in the six regions. They included Karachi 10,374.333 tonnes, Hyderabad 24,948 tonnes, Mirpurkhas 1,615.336 tonnes, Benazirabad 58,524.593 tonnes, Sukkur 179,709.477 tonnes and Larkana 130,766.81 tonnes. Out of which the food ministry had released 35,805.607 tonnes.

Rs43 per kg

The chief minister was told that on Jan 13 the flour price was Rs43 per kg in all regions. The chief minister said at present about 300,000 tonnes of wheat was still in the warehouses of the food ministry and the provincial government released 130,000 tonnes of wheat in the city every month.

“We have to release wheat till the next two months, up to March 15, when fresh crops are harvested and land in the market,” he said. He added the provincial government had to make the arrangements accordingly.

The meeting was told that 77,000 wheat bags procured from Passco had been released in Karachi and 25,000 bags in Hyderabad. More stocks were being lifted from Passco warehouses in Punjab and Balochistan.

Answering a question, the chief minister said Rs90 billion of commercial bank loans was outstanding against the food ministry. The finance secretary disclosed that Rs20bn had been repaid. Passco had also been paid for the wheat purchased from it.

The chief minister directed the food ministry to work out a plan to pay all dues of the banks and get it relieved from the burden.

The CM directed the food ministry to ask flour millers to set up their flour stalls and provide flour at Rs43 per kg to the people.

“I want you to stabilise the wheat prices within the next two days, otherwise I’ll take strict action,” he warned.

Mr Shah also directed the food ministry to prepare a summary for the cabinet for wheat procurement plan 2019-20 so that support price and procurement target could be finalised in the cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Cheap flour stalls

Agriculture Minister Ismail Rahu later told reporters that the provincial government had set up stalls in Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana, Sukkur and other districts of the province where flour was being sold at cheap rates.

He said in Karachi, such stalls had been established at 22 of the 25 bachat bazaar locations. Those areas included Liaquatabad, Landhi, Korangi, PNT Society, Korangi Industrial Area, Labour Colony, Shah Latif Town, Sachal Goth, Dalmia, Gulshan-i-Hadeed Phase-II etc.

“The people of Karachi can get the 10kg flour bags from those bachat bazaars,” said the minister.

He said the situation was being monitored by the commissioner, deputy commissioners and food ministry’s officials in the metropolis.

He added that the cheaper flour was also being sold at stalls set up outside flour mills in Karachi.

“Trucks have been parked in the designated areas where cheaper flour (Rs430 per 10kg) is being sold,” he said, adding that action was being taken against those who were fleecing people.

Local government system

Murad Ali Shah said Sindh was the only province where local governments were functioning; elsewhere “they have been abolished by the Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan governments”.

“The local government system in Sindh has administrative, financial and operational powers but even then a perception is being propagated that the local governments are powerless, which is totally misleading,” said Mr Shah while replying to questions of a 103-member delegation of the Naval War College led by Rear Admiral Mohammad Zubair who called on him at the CM House.

He said the local government system of 2002 was envisaged and implemented by the federal government unilaterally because input of the people of Sindh was not taken as the provincial assembly was not in place.

“The third tier — the local government — virtually made states within the state that had been given powers of promotions of officers even in the higher grades and had revenue authority.”

Mr Shah said those at the helm of the local government promoted officials from grade-7 to grade-21 by creating posts on their own choosing that virtually resulted in them seeking financial support from provincial governments since they had no money to pay salaries.

Similarly, he added, encroachments along drains, on open plots and other government properties emerged during the local government system of 2002. “Thus, the provincial government enacted a new local government law and promulgated it.”

Speaking about the challenges his government faced, the chief minister said global terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda, Daesh and Taliban; terrorism of the MQM-London, BLA, illegal immigrants and Afghan refugees and arms smuggling from Darra Adamkhel and foreign countries were standout threats in the province.

However, with political will and support of police, Rangers and Pakistan Army, the Sindh government had turned the province into a peaceful place.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2020