ISLAMABAD: As the row between the federal and Sindh governments over fixing of minimum support price of wheat for the current Rabi season escalates, Minister for National Food Security and Research Syed Fakhar Imam has announced that the government is considering finding a constitutional way to set a uniform price for all the provinces.
The constitutional solution would prevent the provinces from fixing the support price different from that of the federal government, Mr Imam said at a press conference with Industries and Production Minister Khusro Bakhtyar here on Thursday.
While the Centre has fixed the wheat support price at Rs1,950 per 40kg, Sindh set it at Rs2,200.
The food minister termed the provincial government’s decision “non-serious” and “anti-people”. He said that before announcing the minimum wheat support price for 2021-22, the federal government had asked the Sindh government to submit its proposal, but the latter did not pay any heed to the former’s request and announced the support price which was higher than that of the federal government.
He said the Sindh government’s decision had created a distortion and was tantamount to hoarding and profiteering.
Defending the federal government’s decision, Fakhar Imam said the wheat support price at Rs1,950 would help maintain a balance between the purchasing power of consumers and input cost of farmers.
He said the support price announced by the Sindh government last year had increased the rate of wheat flour in the province, and it was much higher than in Punjab. He said the people of Sindh were suffering and compelled to purchase unjustified costly wheat flour due to wrong policies of the provincial government.
The minister said this year the government imported much less quantity of wheat than the target which helped in saving precious foreign exchange of over $800 million. He said there was no shortage of wheat in the country and the government had sufficient stock of the commodity until the first week of June next year, a time when harvesting of new wheat crop would be in full swing in Punjab.
The government to date has 5.3 million tonnes of wheat in its stock and the import of 1.3m tons is on its way, taking the total stock to over 6.6m tonnes, he said, adding that the government is releasing 40,000 tonnes of wheat on a daily basis.
Khusro Bakhtyar criticised the Sindh government for taking decision on wheat support price not in harmony with the federal government and said the province had become a safe haven for hoarders and profiteers.
About the fertiliser situation, he alleged that a huge stock of urea fertiliser was transported to Sindh from the rest of the country for hoarding. In Punjab, he said, the government was carrying out crackdowns on the dealers involved in hoarding, but the Sindh government remained silent due to which hoarders were moving fertiliser stocks to Sindh.
Minister for National Food Security and Research Fakhar Imam has called for a fresh livestock census in the country to get accurate data for evolving an effective strategy for promotion of the livestock sector.
It may be mentioned that there is a glaring difference between the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), a federal entity, and the Punjab Livestock Department on the number of large animals in the province. The PBS claims it to be eight million, while the provincial department puts the figure at five million.
Speaking at a seminar organised by the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) on Thursday, the minister lamented that only seven to eight per cent of the milk produced in the country was being processed, while it lagged far behind in animal breeding also and called for long-, medium- and short-term strategies to improve the situation.
LCCI President Mian Nauman Kabir, senior vice president Mian Rehman Aziz Chan and vice president Haris Ateeq, Punjab Prosecution Minister Chaudhry Zaheer-ud-Din, former livestock minister Asif Saeed Manais and Livestock Secretary Naveed Haider Sherazi also addressed the seminar.
Amjad Mahmood in Lahore also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2021