MUZAFFARGARH/BAHAWALNAGAR: The officials of the Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) in Muzaffargarh and Bahawalnagar districts are facing criminal cases for illegal sale of gunny bags in the ongoing wheat procurement season.

In Muzaffargarh, the Jatoi police registered a case against Passco in charge of Fatehpur centre Muhammad Mohsin for selling 1,000 gunny bags for Rs700 per bag to traders on the complaint of the Jatoi assistant commissioner (AC). The police recovered the bags from traders.

The FIR states complainant Jatoi AC Tariq Mahmood Malik with his team raided different wheat procurement centres and found thousands of bags missing. A case with fraudulent charges was registered in Jatoi police under sections 419 and 420 of the Pakistan Penal Code against Mohsin.

Before the police case, the gunny bag embezzlement had been uncovered by Bardana Audit Committee convener Syed Sibtain Bukhari leading to Alipur AC’s surprise visits to different wheat procurement centres of Passco. According to the audit team convenor, 21,000 gunny bags were illegally sold to traders in Alipur by Passco supervisors.

The Alipur AC and the convenor checked stock of various Passco centres, such as Khairpur Sadat, Sultanpur, Baqir Shah North, and Alipur, and found thousands of sacks illegally sold to traders even before the bags were distributed to the farmers. Mr Bukhari asked the Passco DGM to hold an inquiry, after which action will be taken against those officials involved in corruption.

According to the report, the AC and the convenor checked the Passco centres at Sultanpur where Passco center in charge admitted that 11,000 bags were sold to traders illegally. The committee found 6,000 bags missing at Khairpur Sadat centre. The body found similar complaints at other centres.

Mr Bukhari said that he had sent a letter to the deputy commissioner and the chief minister’s office. Dawn has learned, many traders of Muzaffargarh approached Passco centres in Alipur and Jatoi for gunny bags after offering bribes.

In Muzaffargarh district, Alipur and Jatoi tehsil are under Passco for wheat procurement, while Muzaffargarh tehsil and Kot Addu district are under the food department. The Punjab food department did not give even a single bag to farmers, while the Passco department started bag distribution to farmers, and one farmer can get six bags per acre. Farmers are worried about the non-provision of gunny bags while private buyers offer Rs3,000 per 40 kilograms to farmers.

In Muzaffargarh, Layyah, and Kot Addu districts, a majority of farmers were forced to sell their wheat to traders at the lowest rates after disappointment with the policy of the Punjab government, which introduced an app for gunny bags, where no farmers could log in. Several farmers said that in the future they could cultivate wheat only for themselves.

The Passco DGM was not available for comment, while Convenor Bukhari said that he had informed the high-ups for strict action against irresponsible officials.

In Bahawalnagar, a farmers’ protest against the delayed provision of gunny bags, the sale of official gunny bags to factory owners, and the favouring of middlemen and politically affiliated people led to the district administration booking and arresting two factory owners for illegally procuring official gunny bags. The FIR, filed on the complaint of Naib Tehsildar of Dunga Bunga Muhammad Mushtaq, stated that on April 27, farmers demonstrated at the Khatan Passco purchasing center against the staff and the Incharge for selling official gunny bags to middlemen at rates of Rs400-500 per bag instead of providing them to farmers.

On April 28, the Bahawalnagar AC along with revenue and police officials visited the Muslim Cotton Factory on Haroonabad Road where the team observed that wheat from private gunny bags was being illegally loaded into Passco gunny bags. Along with seizing 3,000 illegally obtaining official gunny bags, each containing 100 kg of wheat, the team also seized 20,000 maunds of wheat in the factory. Cotton factory owners Muhammad Sajid Bashir and Muhammad Bashir later told the team that they got the official gunny bags from Khatan Passco In Charge Shujaat at the rate of Rs500 per bag. The team arrested the duo and sealed the factory with all available stock in it.

The DGM Passco was not available for comments.

Bahawalnagar Deputy Commissioner Zulfiqar Ahmad told Dawn that that they would take strict action against the elements exploiting farmers and the crackdown against such elements would continue.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2024

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