No ban on wheat movement, says Punjab Food Department

Published May 20, 2024
WORKERS unload wheat that arrived from Punjab at a godown on Kohat Road in Peshawar, on Sunday.—Shahbaz Butt / White Star
WORKERS unload wheat that arrived from Punjab at a godown on Kohat Road in Peshawar, on Sunday.—Shahbaz Butt / White Star

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: The Punjab Food Department has clarified that it has not banned the inter-province or inter-district movement of wheat, blaming a “misinterpretation” of a notification for the confusion regarding grain transportation.

Punjab is currently facing a wheat abundance crisis this crop season due to the heavy import of grain by the caretaker setup close to the local harvesting time.

Usually, the provincial government procures over four million tonnes of wheat annually. How­ever, this season, it has not bou­ght any wheat despite running a “grow more wheat” drive at the onset of the sowing season last October and November.

Growers, reaping a bumper crop, are now at the mercy of free market forces, selling their produce at Rs1,000 per 40kg, way below the official minimum support price of Rs3,900 per 40kg.

A notification issued two days ago, circulating on social media, seeking the posting of officers of good repute at check-posts to curb smuggling, gave the impression that the Punjab government was banning inter-provincial wheat movement.

A spokesperson for the department clarified on Sunday that no restrictions have been imposed on wheat transportation.

Under Punjab government policy, inter-provincial and inter-district transportation of wheat is fully permitted and no permits were required.

He clarified that some elements were linking a letter written by the federal government to prevent the smuggling of various items with the transportation of wheat, which was a complete misunderstanding.

The spokersperson said after instructions from the federal government and Punjab Home Department, letters were written for the appointment of vigilant and honest staff at all checkpoints to prevent smuggling of various items.

However, the delivery, purchase, and sale of wheat, as well as its inter-provincial and inter-district transportation, was fully permitted, he added.

The spokesperson explained that staff posted at checkpoints would keep a record of wheat delivery to track how much grain was sent to each district and province.

Like other commodities, this record-keeping was essential to prevent unscrupulous elements from creating an impression of an artificial shortage in the market, he added.

The spokesperson reassured that wheat was abundantly available in Punjab, which, as the country’s food basket, also fulfilled the needs of other provinces.

KP govt procurement

In a related development, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has opted to bypass the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) for wheat procurement, claiming that this decision will save the provincial government at least Rs12 billion.

“Passco provides us with 40kg of wheat for Rs5,600, but we have decided to directly purchase wheat from farmers at the rate of Rs3,900 for 40kg, saving the KP government Rs12bn,” said KP Food Minister Zahir Shah during a press conference at KP House in Islamabad on Sunday.

Passco is a government-owned company operating in the storage sector of Pakistan.

Mr Shah said that the provincial government has decided to buy at least 300,000 tonnes of wheat from local farmers, emphasising that imported grain will not be procured from the market.

“The provincial government has started purchasing wheat, allocating the first 10 days to local growers. After May 17, farmers from Punjab would be permitted to sell wheat. We have taken all necessary steps to ensure transparency in the procurement process,” he elaborated.

The minister further explained that unlike previous practices where separate funds were allocated for wheat transportation and bags, this time, the cabinet approved the direct procurement of 40kg of wheat for Rs3,900 at procurement centres.

“There are 22 procurement centres and we have already purchased over 27,300 tonnes out of which 17,000 tonnes was procured from local growers,” he said.

“If any officer tried to bring imported wheat into the province for government procurement, we will take strict action against them under the Efficiency and Discipline rules, including termination of service.”

Mr Shah also mentioned that 3.5 million tonnes of wheat, imported by the previous federal caretaker government, was stocked in Punjab’s warehouses, leading to the government’s refusal to purchase wheat from local farmers.

“Farmers of Punjab are facing a difficult time so we have decided to purchase wheat from them,” he said.

Replying to questions, he acknowledged corruption in the food department, which prompted the KP government to introduce an online app for people to register and sell wheat to.

“We need 300,000 tonnes of wheat, but farmers have approached us to sell 1.4m tonnes. So, we have decided to procure on a first-come, first-served basis. Despite ongoing propaganda against us, we remain steadfast in our policy and decisions,” the minister affirmed.

Mr Shah said the Punjab government was not procuring wheat, prompting the KP administration to directly buy the grain from Punjab farmers.

Responding to a question regarding why wheat was not being procured from local farmers, he emphasised that priority was given to locals, but the quality of wheat was also taken into consideration.

He also noted that the price of a 20kg flour bag has decreased from Rs3,200 to Rs1,650.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2024

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