LAHORE: The Sindh government on Saturday stopped transportation of its wheat purchased by the private sector to Punjab without assigning any reason.
In response to a request from Punjab, the Sindh government on April 1 allowed 10 flour mills from Lahore and Sheikhupura to purchase 300 metric tonnes of wheat each from five districts of the province. The permits were issued in view of inter-district and inter-provincial movement of grain during the harvest.
However, officials of the Sindh Food Department barred trucks loaded with wheat from leaving Larkana district on Saturday in spite of production of a letter issued by the Sindh government permitting the 10 flour mills to purchase the staple and transport it to Punjab.
Pakistan Flour Mills Association (PFMA) chairman Asim Raza told Dawn that the Sindh Food Department officials had stopped trucks carrying wheat for the 10 mills in Punjab in Larkana.
Food department officials bar trucks loaded with wheat from leaving Larkana district
“The Sindh Food Department is not letting our trucks to leave despite permits issued by Sindh allowing inter-provincial movement of wheat purchased by us from that province.”
He said the restriction on wheat transportation from Sindh could result in flour shortages in Punjab.
Flour mills in Punjab largely depend on wheat purchased from Sindh in the last few weeks before the commencement of the harvest in the province by middle of April. The wheat harvest in Sindh begins around mid of March but has been delayed for a few days this year because of weather and the coronabirus outbreak.
It may be recalled that several areas in Punjab are already facing wheat flour shortages as people continue panic buying over countrywide lockdowns to control the spread of Covid-19.
All efforts to contact Adviser to the Sindh Chief Minister Murtaza Wahab and Food Minister Hari Ram for getting the provincial government’s comment on the matter failed as their phones were switched off.
Sources said the provincial government was delaying transportation of wheat purchased by the Punjab mills in order to first meet its own procurement target of 1.4 million tonnes from this year’s harvest.
Last year the Sindh government had decided not to procure grain, which was blamed for severe wheat flour shortages and consequent sharp spike in its price in the province. “The provincial government does not want to take any chance this year, especially in view of the situation created by the rapid spread of Covid-19,” a flour mill owner from Karachi told this reporter by telephone on the condition of anonymity.
The federal government is expecting total wheat output of 27.03 million tonnes in the country, significantly more than domestic consumption requirements of around 25 million for the entire year, and plans to procure 8.5 million tonnes for national food security reasons and prevent the price from crashing.
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2020