CHINIOT: The strike of fertiliser dealers across the district entered its eighth day on Thursday. They are protesting against, what they say, police cases and a heavy fine on them by agriculture department officials.

There are 34 fertiliser dealers in Chiniot district who sell up to 300,000 fertiliser bags a month.

These dealers were operating according to market factors until the recent shortage of fertiliser and ensuing hoarding and profiteering by some segments, which forced the government to intervene to ensure a smooth supply of the input at fixed prices to end-consumers.

The government set up sale points at union councils where revenue officials supervised the sale, but all the interventions failed to satisfy the needs of farmers, especially small farmers, who constitute nearly 80 per cent of the farmlands.

The Punjab government recently introduced a mobile application to track the fertiliser bags from mills to farms. Dealers have to enter the particulars of every buyer into the App. These particulars are in the access of the officials of the agriculture department and the district administration who verify the recipients and reconcile the number of bags a farmer buys in relation to the area of farmland he owns through a digital girdawari system.

Farooq Ahmad, president of the Chiniot Fertiliser Dealers’ Association, told Dawn that department officials harassed them, registered FIRs against them, and imposed heavy fines on them when they refused to pay bribes to them.

He says a bag of DAP Fertilizer cost them Rs14,000 but the government forced them to sell it at Rs12,000. The high price of DAP has increased the demand for and the price of urea fertilizer.

“We charge the high prices due to market forces of high demand and short supply, which attract the actions of government departments, which force us to sell urea at a fixed rate of Rs2,250 per bag or grease their palms regularly.”

He threatened to continue the strike for an indefinite period if the district administration did not take corrective measures to facilitate their businesses and save them from the high-handedness of the officials.

“The sowing of potatoes and peanuts has already been affected due to the strike, and in the future, the sowing of wheat will also be affected badly, if the unavailability of fertilizer persists,” Farooq added.

Agriculture Deputy Director Mehfooz Ahmad told Dawn the government had recently launched a digital mobile App to track whether the fertilizer is sold to end consumers or hoarded for illegal profiteering, but the dealers are not following rules to implement the same.

Moreover, the Special Branch submits its reports to the deputy commissioner about those fertilizer dealers who sell bags at inflated prices. Besides reports, they get the reports verified through anonymous purchases at inflated rates from them and finally ask them to provide records of sales if they have not sold urea at inflated prices.

The department imposes penalties and registers FIRs against violators under the Fertilizer Control Order, 1973, he said and refuted bribe charges. He said the fertilizer supply had been affected due to hoarding and illegal profiteering by dealers.

Deputy Commissioner Farooq Rasheed said he held meetings with fertilizer dealers and urged them to comply with regulations and also directed agriculture department officials not to take unnecessary actions against them.

Syed Noorul Hassan Shah, patron-in-chief of the Kisan Ittehad, said that farmers were suffering from the situation and demanded Chief Minister Parvez Elahi take action and ensure a smooth supply of urea and other fertilisers to farmers at fixed prices.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2022

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