RAWALPINDI: A woman leaves a wheat flour distribution centre carrying four heavy bags on her head. The federal government’s well-intentioned initiative to provide free flour to the needy this Ramazan has been met with criticism after stampedes and disorder claimed at least six lives at similar distribution points across the country.—Online
RAWALPINDI: A woman leaves a wheat flour distribution centre carrying four heavy bags on her head. The federal government’s well-intentioned initiative to provide free flour to the needy this Ramazan has been met with criticism after stampedes and disorder claimed at least six lives at similar distribution points across the country.—Online

PESHAWAR: People waiting for free flour looted flour trucks in provincial capital and Dera Ismail Khan on Monday while residents of Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Khyber and Abbottabad took to streets to protest unavailability of the commodity in their districts.

In Peshawar, flour looting incident took place near a park on Ring Road where hundreds of people including a large number of women were waiting to receive free flour.

Video footage of the incident shared on social media showed a large number of people swarming the truck as soon as it arrived on the scene. Many of them climb the truck and start throwing bags of flour. The drivers then sped away to escape the mob. Video footage also showed people fighting over looted flour and trying to snatch bags from each other.

On the other hand, Chamkani police told Dawn that they detained 40 people over looting the flour truck on Ring Road.

An official said that the detained people were kept in the lockup as no FIR was registered against them so far. “We are waiting for the district administration’s decision as to what to do with those currently being held in the lockup,” he said.

Protests held against non-availability of commodity in Bannu, Lakki, Khyber and Abbottabad

However, district administration kept a mum on the issue. The deputy commissioner was not available for comments on the issue.

Also in Dera Ismail Khan, flour trucks were looted at two distribution points.

Flour was brought in four trucks to a college in Darazinda tehsil of Dera Ismail Khan district for free distribution among deserving people. During the distribution of free flour, enraged people attacked the trucks.

The enraged mobs looted one truck out of four and police resorted to baton charge to disperse the crowd. The local administration said that the flour distribution process was stopped but resumed later.

Another truck was also looted in Kulachi tehsil.

According to the management of Sarhad Flour Mills, the truck was sent to Kulachi for free distribution of flour among deserving people. It said that few bags could be distributed as per rules but people climbed the truck and took away flour bags. It said that stones were pelted at the truck crew.

The truck crew told Dawn that not even a single bag of flour was left as people did not wait for their turn.

Also, women held demonstrations against non-provision of free flour in Lakki Marwat and Bannu on Monday. They gathered on Bannu-DI Khan road near the fruit and vegetable market in Naurang town and blocked it to traffic.

The male relatives of the protesting women alleged that dealers refused to provide the commodity to them. They asked the government to take notice of the issue and ensure provision of free flour to them.

In Bannu, women closed Bannu-Miramshah road to record their protest against non-provision of free flour from a distribution point established at a flour mills.

They said that they had come to the distribution point early in the morning but the dealer was providing the commodity to those, who could not get it yesterday.

Police reached the venue and convinced protesters to open the road after successful negotiations.

In Abbottabad, a large number of people staged protest against mismanagement at the main distribution point of free flour near Eidgah.

The shortage of flour bags at the distribution points forced the people including women to wait in queues. The protesters blocked the main Karakoram Highway and said that women and senior citizens were insulted at the distribution point.

According to sources, three women fainted due to long wait at the overcrowd distribution point. The protesters said that number of distribution points should be increased and instead of giving three bags, one bag should be given to a family.

In Khyber, women held a protest demonstration in Jamrud against non-provision of free flour to them.

They blocked the main Torkham Highway and demanded ‘fair treatment’ at the flour distribution points.

They temporarily suspended their protest after an assurance by the Kukikhel elders that they too would get their share of free flour. The angry women again came out on the road some time later and staged a sit-in.

They alleged that dealers were not giving them free flour as was promised by the district administration. They later called off their protest and cleared the road after an assurance by local officials, who asked them to visit the distribution centre on Tuesday along with their identity cards where they would be given the promised flour.

In Lower Dir, Deputy Commissioner Iftikhar Ahmad ordered increase in the distribution points of free flour.

An official told journalists that the administration had set up 236 distribution points in the district. He said that a total of 32,429 beneficiaries were provided with free flour so far while 5,601 families collected free flour only on Sunday.

The deputy commissioner himself is supervising the procedure while all the ACs, AACs and tehsildars have been tasked to monitor distribution of free flour within their respective areas.

The eligible families have asked to send male members to collect the commodity.

APP adds: Flour Mills Association (FMA) chairman Iqbal Ahmad Khan on Monday said that the association was totally in favour of free flour distribution scheme, however, with the stoppage of regular quota for mills, the rate per 20-kilogram bag in the market was increased by Rs400.

He was presiding over the meeting of the executive body of Flour Mills Association KP wherein owners of flour mills and the group leader of the association Mohammad Naeem Butt were also present.

Iqbal Khan said that it was a good gesture that the poor and deserving people were being provided with free flour, however, on the other side the general public was facing hardship in getting the commodity.

He said that production of wheat flour in KP was 20 to 25 per cent, which was insufficient for consumption. He said that constant complaints were being registered regarding unavailability of flour.

“The poor, who receive free flour through Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), are also complaining when they apply for flour through a mobile app, they receive the message that they have taken their share of flour,” said Iqbal Khan.

He urged government to provide quota on a regular basis to KP flour mills so that people could be provided with sufficient wheat flour.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2023

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