MANSEHRA, Jan 6: The tobacco growers have threatened to launch an agitation if the government doesn’t remove the chairman of tobacco board in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

They also demanded of the government to increase the price of tobacco in accordance with the expenses incurred on the crop.

“The tobacco board is constituted to protect the rights of growers but the incumbent chairman is working for the tobacco companies,” Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf leader Sajid Mumtaz Khan told a press conference here on Sunday.

Flanked by vice president of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Growers Coordination Council Amjad Salar and other farmers, he said that they wanted the price of tobacco to be fixed at Rs250 per kilogram after assessment of the expenses. But the chairman of tobacco board fixed the price of the crop at Rs165 per Kg to appease the companies, he added.

“We are being forced to quit growing tobacco as the chairman of tobacco board is hand in glove with the companies. We can’t meet our expenses owing to the current rate of tobacco,” said Mr Salar.

He said that tobacco board chairman put the office-bearers of growers coordination council and 140 farmers behind the bars in Peshawar on Decembers 21 when they raised voice for their rights.

“We would not sit silent until our demands are met. We would soon announce schedule of agitation across the province if the chairman is not removed and prices are not fixed in accordance with our demands,” said Mr Salar.

Mumtaz Khan told journalists that farmers of Pakhal valley, known for its high quality Virginia tobacco, used to grow opium in the past but government under an agreement convinced them to abandon its cultivation and grow tobacco.

“Unfortunately the growers are being denied their basic rights and share in tobacco levy,” he added.

Mr Khan said that Mansehra produced a large quantity of tobacco and as per law 15 per cent of its revenue should be spent in the district. He said that the share of the district in tobacco levy should be spent through the tobacco board and growers instead of lawmakers.

Mr Khan said that growers and their children in Mansehra were deprived of health, education and road facilities. “Mansehra’s growers generate Rs1.2 billion annual revenue but they are deprived of health, education and other facilities,” he added.

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