Flour mill owners from all over Pakistan have shut down operations to protest against the restrictions imposed on the free movement of wheat and flour within the country.
Chairman of the All Pakistan Flour Mill Owners Association (APFMA), Iqbal Daud, told The Express Tribune that consignments of wheat and flour being transported from Punjab were being stopped by provincial authorities in Sindh despite the federal government’s assurances of free movement across Pakistan.
He added that the government had issued a notification fifteen days back permitting the export of wheat to Afghanistan. However, according to him, “Political agents in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Frontier Constabulary in Balochistan were creating hurdles for exporters.”
The chairman also labelled the recently introduced turnover tax of 1 per cent as ‘excessive’. He warned that flour mills would not resume production until the government acceded to their demands of permitting the unhindered movement of goods.
Meanwhile, the Sindh Food Department rejected allegations of obstructing the transportation of wheat in the province.
Munir Jalbani, Press Secretary of the Sindh Food and Agriculture Ministry, explained, “The Chief Minister imposed section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure on June 9, affecting transport of goods through Sindh. This order was not issued by Sindh Food Department”.
Jalbani emphasised that the government had always followed an open door policy towards mill owners when it came to addressing reasonable grievances. “We have to work in the national interest and we will not concede to any demands that appease a select lobby,” he commented on the association’s ultimatum.
He asserted that there was enough wheat in Sindh to meet local demand, pointing out that the Sindh Food Department had purchased 1.7 million tons of wheat from farmers at a support price of Rs. 2,525 per 100 kilogramme bag. He was of the opinion that mill owners only wanted to export wheat to earn abnormal profits, brushing aside accusations that restrictions from the Sindh government were simply ‘pressure tactics’.
He said that if the millers really wanted to transport wheat to Balochistan, they could easily send it by rail. “Doesn’t it cost a lot more to transport wheat by road to Karachi via Ghotki and Sukkur before sending it to Balochistan?” questioned Jalbani.
All provincial chapters of the APFMA have supported the strike call. Chairman of the Balochistan office, Abdul Wahid, has stressed that all flour mills in the province would remain closed until further directives from the representatives of the association.
Analysts pointed out that the demand for wheat usually increased during the month of Ramadan. Millers have warned that the strike may be prolonged indefinitely if their demands are not met by the government. Experts say that if issues between government and millers are not resolved soon, production of the staple food items will be affected. This could translate into shortages of flour despite a record wheat harvest.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2010.