Rawalpindi, Islamabad markets in grip of wheat flour shortage

Published November 14, 2021
In this file photo, a man carries a bag of flour. — Reuters/File
In this file photo, a man carries a bag of flour. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: A wheat flour shortage has hit Rawalpindi and Islamabad markets as millers went on a strike against a recent decision of the Punjab Food Department.

The food department has asked the flour mills to get wheat from Bahawalnagar and sell the 20kg wheat flour bag at Rs1,100.

But the millers in Rawalpindi and Islamabad on Saturday stopped supply of the commodity out of the subsidised wheat stock and instead supplied flour prepared from the wheat purchased from the open market.

The Punjab Flour Mills Association Rawalpindi region announced that they would stop supply of subsidised flour to markets, also warning of a full-scale strike in the twin cities from Monday. If the issue remained unresolved, they will give a strike call for the whole Punjab province.

Talking to media, leaders of the flour mills association blamed the Punjab Food Department for the crisis, saying the department had refused to issue subsidised wheat to the millers.

Millers blame Punjab Food Department for the crisis

As the supply of subsided wheat flour has been stopped, shortage is feared at key sale outlets in the garrison city where Rs1,075 bags of 20 kg were directly being sold from trucks daily.

The association’s group leader Asim Raza and patron-in-chief Tariq Sadiq said the food department had directed the flour mills to buy wheat from south Punjab. But the transportation cost, which came to be Rs350 per 100 kg bag, will increase the price of a 20 kg flour bag by Rs85, they said.

Mr Raza said the prime minister and the Punjab chief minister should take notice of the situation and order action against those responsible for mismanagement and incompetence.

The association has already written letters to the food department and the Rawalpindi deputy commissioner and a meeting between the two sides is expected on Monday.

Association’s regional chairman Riazullah Khan told Dawn that northern Punjab and Islamabad were not the mainstream wheat producing areas and traditionally the provincial government used to store wheat in the region and supplies were made locally.

“However, possibly due to any internal mismanagement the Punjab government has decided that the millers would lift wheat from depots in south Punjab,” he said, adding the other issue was that the government had reduced the grinding charges from Rs600 to Rs400, that too was a cause of concern.

Moreover, there are grinding charges, including electricity bills, labour cost, cost of bags, loading/unloading charges.

Meanwhile, in the garrison city too, wheat flour was not available due to the strike by the millers.

The food department has asked the local flour mills to get wheat from Bahawalnagar and sell the 20kg wheat flour bag at Rs1,100.

The millers say with the increase in transportation charges, they will not be able to sell flour on the prices fixed by the government.

On the other hand, the grinder wheat flour is available at Rs85 per kg against Rs58 fixed by the district administration.

The grinder machine owners say since the district administration had not provided wheat to them it would not be possible for them to sell it at the official rate.

Meanwhile, sugar is still being sold at Rs140 per kg in the open market.

“The imported sugar is available in large quantity with dealers but shopkeepers are not buying it,” said Rawalpindi Merchant Association President Saleem Pervaiz while talking to Dawn.

He said traders were reluctant to buy the imported sugar to sell it at Rs90 per kg as millers has started cane crushing and local sugar will come to the market in two or three weeks.

The traders said imported sugar would go waste because people preferred the local one.

He said one truckload of sugar was standing outside the shop of a dealer but shopkeepers were not coming to buy it.

About wheat flour, Mr Pervaiz said: “Wheat flour on government rate is not available in the market due to the strike of flour mills.

“The flour mills have to pay Rs400 extra per 100kg wheat bag if they bring it from Bahawalnagar and it is not possible to sell it at the rate fixed by the government.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Rawalpindi Division Gulzar Hussain Shah chaired a meeting on price control.

During the meeting, Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Ali said flour and sugar prices were stable in Rawalpindi district. Sugar is available at Rs90 per kg and flour at Rs1,100 per bag.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2021

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