• Minister blames caretakers for fiasco, promises fact-finding probe
• Cabinet undecided on ‘subsidy’ to small farmers, approves Kissan card
• LHC asks govt to provide details on procurement decision

LAHORE: As it blamed the caretaker government for causing a “wheat crisis” in the province, the Punjab government on Tuesday announced a ‘vague’ policy that did not contain a date for the initiation of the procurement drive.

The policy also came under fire from the opposition as it offered nothing new to the protesting farmers who had taken to the streets to demand the procurement of their grain at a support price of Rs3,900 per 40kg announced by the government. The government had also reduced the procurement target from over 4 million tonnes to a little over 2 million.

Speaking in the Punjab Assembly during a session that began three hours later than scheduled, Food Min­ister Bilal Yasin said there was a “wh­eat crisis” in the province for wh­ich the caretaker government was responsible.

“Those who imported wheat [close to the harvesting season] are responsible for this crisis. How­ever, despite this, the government will fully support the small farmers,” the minister said, without elaborating on the mode and timeframe for this support.

The minister also promised a fact-finding probe into the import of the staple and said the report would be tabled in the house. He added the procurement drive would start when the grain would contain “10 per cent moisture” which was currently at 16pc due to a recent spell of rains.

Following the policy statement, the speaker adjourned the session indefinitely without allowing the opposition to speak on the matter since “it has already been discussed for the past four days”.

The opposition subsequently staged a sit-in on The Mall to express solidarity with the farmers.

‘Cabinet’s indecision’

On the other hand, the provincial government remained indecisive about the planned subsidy for the ‘small farmers’ from whom it may not purchase wheat.

The cabinet, however, approved the Kissan card in its meeting and the subsidy proposal was merely reviewed.

Under the proposal, the government intends to provide Rs400-600 per 40kg subsidy to the growers whose grain it will not buy even though they applied on the Kissan app for this purpose.

During the meeting, CM Maryam Nawaz said: “All resources of Punjab are available for farmers. Middlemen and ‘Aarthi’ cannot be allowed to exploit farmers. My intention is to make roti cheaper for the people,” she claimed.

LHC seeks details

The issue also echoed in the Lahore High Court, which ordered the Punjab government to provide details of the cabinet decision on the procurement. Justice Shahid Karim was hearing a petition seeking directives for the government to buy wheat from the farmers.

The judge said the court would not interfere in the government’s policy, but it still wanted to know about the cabinet decision and adjourned the matter for one week.

Advocate Farhat Manzoor Chandio, the petitioner, contended that the provincial government announced its wheat procurement policy and fixed support price at Rs3,900 per 40kg.

He argued that the government was bound to buy wheat from farmers at the support price and the procurement was supposed to start on April 22 but it didnot, which was a “violation of fundamental rights” of the growers.

The lawyer pleaded that the delay in the official buying and heavy rains in the province forced the farmers to sell their wheat at lower prices to the ‘mafia’.

Zulqernain Tahir and Wajih Ahmad Sheikh also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2024

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