ISLAMABAD: The opposition on Saturday slammed the government over its decision to increase prices of wheat flour, ghee and sugar being sold through the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) and termed it “cruelty with the nation”.
In separate statements, the opposition leaders belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said that only a day after increasing the oil prices, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) made the utility stores “inaccessible” to the poor and vulnerable.
The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the federal cabinet in its meeting on Friday decided to order import of 200,000 tonnes of sugar to build strategic reserves and increase the prices of wheat flour, ghee and sugar by up to 53 per cent for sale through the USC.
On the recommendation of the Ministry of Industries and Production, the ECC increased the price of ghee at USC outlets by from Rs170 to Rs260 per kg and the price of wheat flour from Rs800 per 20kg bag to Rs950. Likewise, sugar price was raised from Rs68 to Rs85 per kg.
An official statement said the prices were revised owing to an increasing gap between the subsidised prices offered by the USC and the prevailing market rates.
PML-N President and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif said the PTI government had confessed to historic inflation by increasing the prices of essential items at the utility stores. He said had there been no inflation in the country, the government would not have been forced to increase the prices of essential items in its under control stores.
Mr Sharif said this “rule of tyranny” couldn’t be allowed to go on as this government had crossed all boundaries of inflation and unemployment. He said it seemed that the PTI believed that the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir were blind to all what was going under Imran Khan’s rule in Pakistan.
“Inflation, foreign debt, unemployment and economic destruction all are at historic peak under the present rulers,” he said.
PML-N’s information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb in her statement regretted that the government had decided to snatch subsidy on essential items like wheat, sugar and ghee. She said on one hand, the government had made a record increase in oil prices and on the other hand, the rulers were stating that a common man would not be affected by it.
PPP vice-president Sherry Rehman in her statement regretted that the government had increased the prices of essential items by a whopping 53pc while the weekly inflation hovered around a massive 12.5pc.
Instead of providing relief to the people before Eid, she said, the PTI government had dropped an “inflation bomb” on the people while the mafias were making billions.
“This government has set new record of extreme inflation and rampant corruption,” she said, adding that the utility stores had been made inaccessible to the poor and vulnerable which defeated their whole purpose.
Ms Rehman alleged that the “PTI mafia” had made Rs230 billion out of the sugar crisis and for the first time, utility stores subsidy was going to the mafia, not the poor. She said the utility stores had obtained 40,000 tonnes of sugar at Rs90 per kg.
“Our food import bill has soared by a massive 55pc to $6.12bn this year mainly due to sugar and wheat imports. There was a time when we were self-sufficient. Now the government is importing 200,000 tonnes of sugar and 200,000 bales of cotton to meet requirements of the textile industry. Is there anyone who will take responsibility of this?” she asked.
“Making essential items unaffordable is certainly not the relief that was promised. It seems that the government is at war with its own people. First the petrol bomb and now this, Pakistan needs relief from PTIMF,” she concluded.
Responding to the opposition’s criticism, Minister of State for Information Farrukh Habib through his official Twitter account said that despite revision in the prices, the essential items like ghee, sugar and flour were still available to the people at over 4,900 utility stores on 15 to 18pc less prices than the market rates. He said from January 2020 to June 2021, the government had paid about Rs30bn subsidy to the USC.
The minister said the government was bringing “targeted subsidy” for the marginalised segments of society. Moreover, he said, the utility stores were being computerised to ensure transparency so that the deserving people could get benefit from the subsidy. He said that according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, there had been 40pc hike in prices all over the world and the oil prices had registered an 124pc increase.
He said the government had reduced petroleum levy on petrol to zero to lessen burden of rising global prices of the commodity on consumers. He said the government had brought down sales tax on petrol from Rs15.9 to Rs11.5, reducing Rs4.4 per litre on the commodity. He said the government was facing loss in its revenue collection by reducing taxes on petrol.
Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2021