Dozens of farmers staged a demonstration in Hafizabad on Sunday and alleged that middlemen were being favoured in the wheat procurement drive.
The protesters burned old tyres and blocked Sargodha Road, accusing officials of the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation Limited (PASSCO) of distributing gunny bags to middle men instead of farmers. The protesters – belonging to Manget Nicha, Iqbalnagar, Vanike Tarar and Hanjerwal villages – said middlemen were buying wheat from farmers at a depressed price and selling it to the PASSCO at the official rate.
Talking to The Express Tribune, PASSCO project manager Imtiaz Ahmed Virk said there wasn’t much the corporation could do to check if a person selling wheat at its procurement centres was a farmer or not. “It appears the middlemen are getting gunny bags using farmers’ identity documents. There is no way to stop them from selling wheat in these bags,” he said.
Nasar, Bilal, Javed Hanjra, commission agents at a wheat market in Gardi area, refused to comment on the issue.
Hafizabad district coordination officer Captain (retd) Asif said he hoped the practice would soon end as the difference between wheat price in the open market and the government rate had declined significantly since the start of the procurement drive on Friday.
Procurement centre sealed
A procurement centre in Jalalpur Bhattian was sealed on Saturday directives of a civil judge. The order was issued on a complaint by small farmers that they were ignored in distribution of gunny bags. The complainants said big landowners and middlemen were using their contacts in the administration to get gunny bags. Some farmers who had staged a sit-in in front of the centre were allegedly manhandled by a police team. DPO Karamatullah Malik, however, rejected that police had used excessive force. He said they had only wanted the protesters not to disturb public order in the area.
Investigation dropped after man convinces police of land ownership
In Sargodha, Darya Khan police on Sunday dropped investigation against a man accused of buying wheat from the open market and selling it at the official rate after he submitted a copy of a rental contract he had signed with his tenant as evidence that he owned land in the area.
SHO Rana Saeed said the deputy superintendent of police, the assistant commissioner and relevant Food Department employees had investigated the matter and found Abdul Karim innocent.
Karim had been accused by several farmers of selling wheat he had bought in the market at Barkatwala Procurement Centre on Sunday. Police also released four trucks and a tractor-trolley loaded with wheat bags Karim had brought to the centre on Saturday. These were seized after a complaint was filed against him by farmers including Muhammad Zulfiqar and Ashraf Chaudhry.
Talking to The Tribune on Sunday, the complainants said they did not want to pursue the case against Karim anylonger.
They said they had been assured by the administration that 100 bags would be bought from each of them.
Karim rejected the allegation and said that the wheat brought to the centre was produced on land he had leased. He said he had recently joined the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and added that the Saturday’s incident was orchestrated by his political rivals.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2012.
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