RAWALPINDI, Jan 22: A wheat flour (atta) crisis has hit the garrison city with the price of a 20kg bag jumping to Rs800 against the official rate of Rs670.
After the increase, the prices of Roti and other wheat products like bread and rusk have gone up despite the City District Government Rawalpindi (CDGR)’s claim that there was no shortage of wheat flour or an increase in the prices.
Tandoors are now selling Roti at Rs7 against Rs6 last week. Bread is available in bakeries for Rs56 per loaf against the previous price of Rs45.
“Wheat and fine wheat flour prices have gone up so we have to increase the prices of our products,” said Raja Akram, the owner of a bakery in Saddar.
Last week, the CDGR had increased the price of the 20kg wheat flour bag from Rs618 to Rs670 but the retailers refused to accept it and fixed the price at Rs800.
Utility Stores Corporation (USC) outlets are selling the 20kg bag of wheat flour at Rs720. However, at some places, the commodity is available at Rs670 per bag. The residents were seen shuttling between one bazaar and another in search of wheat flour at the official rate of Rs670 per 20kg bag.
Ghulam Fareed, a shopkeeper at Saddar Bazaar, said the millers had not been providing them wheat flour for the last two days.
He said some people were getting the commodity from the mills by paying Rs50 extra to the owners.
Mumraiz Khan, another shopkeeper at Kola Centre in Saddar, said he got 10 bags of wheat flour at the new prices after standing in a long queue outside a mill.
“Nowadays our precious time and energies are wasted on scouring the city in search of flour at a reasonable price,” said Mohammad Suleman, a resident of Adiala Road.
He said wheat flour was selling in the market at Rs40 per kg for the last two days.
“Shopkeepers are not selling the commodity and turning away the buyers on the pretext of unavailability. However, if they agree to sell, they insist on charging Rs40 to Rs45 per kg,” said Mohammad Asghar, a resident of Tench Bhatta.
Zulfat Hussain, a resident of Allama Iqbal Colony, said he visited Lalkurti, Saddar, Tench Bhatta, Chungi No 22, Arya Mohallah and Dhoke Syedan on Tuesday but could not get wheat flour.
He criticised the provincial government for its failure to provide wheat flour to the public in a sufficient quantity.
He also complained that the shopkeepers were hoarding the commodity to sell it at Rs780 to Rs800 per 20kg bag.
Abdullah Khan, a resident of Dhoke Ratta, said he preferred to purchase wheat flour from Chakki at Rs50 per kg.
He said he had also visited a Utility Store outlet where the 20kg bag was available at Rs720. However, he added, the quality of the wheat flour available at the Utility Store was low.
The Chakki owners claimed that millers were supplying them with a limited quantity of wheat leaving them with no option but to sell flour at Rs40 to Rs50 per kg.
“The situation will improve within two to three days as the Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Service Corporation (Pasco) was releasing more wheat to bridge the gap between the demand and supply,” said Sheikh Mohammad Shabir, a former president of the Flour Mills Association Punjab, while talking to Dawn.
He said people bought flour from the shops close to their houses where shopkeepers had increased the prices. He said flour was being sold at controlled rates in Sunday bazaars.
The flour crisis in Rawalpindi would subside after an increase in wheat quota for mills within two or three days.
The administration said there was no shortage of wheat flour in the city and the shopkeepers were following the prices fixed by the CDGR.
“We conducted surprise raids at various localities and found that nobody was selling wheat flour at higher prices,” claimed District Food Controller Shabir Niazi while talking to Dawn.
“The retailers and flour mill owners created the artificial crisis in the city but the provincial government increased the price of the 20kg bag from Rs618 to Rs670 last week.”
He also claimed that there was no shortage of wheat flour in the city.
When contacted, District Coordination Officer (DCO) Saqib Zafar said the district government was striving to ensure the availability of wheat flour at the official rate.
He said the weekly bazaars on Sunday had received no wheat flour buyer, indicating there was no shortage of the basic commodity in the city.
However, he admitted that there were some problems due to the gap between supply and demand.
This was because mills operating in Islamabad were not giving flour to the garrison city, he observed.
In reply to a question, the DCO said the CDGR had imposed fines on nanbais for overcharging. He said instructions had been issued to the assistant commissioners to conduct raids and impose fines on those selling Roti at Rs7.