ISLAMABAD: Amid a staggering price spiral over the past few months, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif made a significant announcement on Tuesday that “the poorest of the poor” would get wheat flour (Atta) for free during Ramazan.

The package will first be implemented in Punjab and then in other parts of the country.

The prime minister directed the authorities after a meeting with officials of the Punjab government to chalk out a strategy for the supply of flour to poor families “as soon as possible”.

Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Raza Naqvi, the provincial food secretary and other senior officials attended the meeting.

Punjab Chief Secretary Zahid Akhtar Zaman and Finance Secretary Mujahid Sherdil briefed the prime minister about the Ramazan package prepared by the provincial government.

As the price of flour has shot up by more than 100 per cent over the last two years, the price of a Naan surged to Rs30 from Rs12 during the period.

Utility Stores

Meanwhile, a standing committee of the Senate was briefed about measures taken by the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) to ensure availability of essential commodities at reasonable rates.

The committee on industries and production met, with Senator Khalida Ateeb in the chair, at Parliament House.

Muhammad Ali Amir, the chief of USC, informed the committee the corporation’s stocks had over 1,900 metric tons (MT) of wheat flour, over 10,300 MT of sugar, almost 1,400 MT of ghee, more than 500 MT of Dal Channa and 300 MT of Dal Masoor in nine different zones across the country.

Mr Amir said the government was giving “targeted subsidy” to individuals whose monthly income was below Rs29,000 and who are registered with the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

The government was providing Rs1.6 billion in subsidy every month and the bulk of that amount was being spent on flour, the USC chief said. “A subsidy of Rs 62 is being given on every kilogram of flour.”

Senator Saifullah Sarwar Khan Nyazee asked Mr Amir about measures being taken to curb malpractices at Utility Store Corporation. He replied the corporation had been running its operations manually for the last 50 years, but “we now plan to digitalise the entire operation”.

This would go a long way in curbing malpractices, Mohammad Ali Amir said.

The Senate committee was apprised about measures taken by the government to ensure availability of essential items at reasonable prices during Ramazan.

The USC managing director said a subsidy of Rs 5 would be given on 19 items for “targeted recipients” as well as the general public.

Senator Khalida Ateeb asked the Utility Stores chief about the mechanism for distinguishing between the deserving and the non-deserving. He replied that individuals registered with BISP were treated as `targeted’ or “deserving individuals”.

The chairman of the committee suggested the inclusion of more families under the BISP umbrella.

Proposals for PSDP

Momin Agha, an official of the ministry of industries and production, informed the committee that 21 projects had been enlisted in the Public Sector Development Programme for 2023-24 _ 17 ongoing projects and four new ones _ at a total cost of Rs 19,013 million (over Rs 19 billion).

Senator Khalida Ateeb suggested that priority be given to such projects as can boost the economy and raise exports.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2023

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