SUKKUR: Like every year, the government has delayed setting up wheat procurement centres throughout upper Sindh, due to which small farmers are being forced to sell their yield in the open market at a rate much below the official support price of Rs1,300 per 40 kilogrammes (kg).
Moreover, empty wheat bags are reportedly being distributed to selected people as political favours while poor farmers, despite having made payments, are still waiting for the bags.
According to a food department official, who requested anonymity, the wheat procurement target in Sukkur, Ghotki, Khairpur and Naushero Feroz districts is 467,500 tons for which 163 procurement centres have been established.
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As far as the distribution of empty wheat bags is concerned, he said influential landlords always manage to get the lion's share, while small farmers are kept waiting. This year, the task of distribution of empty wheat bags has been assigned to revenue officials, but they too succumbed to political pressure, he claimed. According to the official, Sindh food minister Nasir Shah's son, Kumail Haider Shah, is playing an active role in the distribution of empty wheat bags to favourites.
Shah has been affiliated with the Mahar group of Ghotki since long, and was given charge of the food ministry on the recommendation of Sardar Ali Gohar Mahar, a local influential. This is why a large number of empty wheat bags have reportedly been distributed among Mahar's favourites. The minister did not return repeated calls and messages sent for his version.
Better late than never
Talking to The Express Tribune, Ghotki District Food Controller, Aneesur Rehman, denied distributing empty bags under political influence, saying the task had been assigned to revenue officials this time to avoid something like that from happening.
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When asked about the delay in opening procurement centres, the official said it is not that late as wheat harvesting in Ghotki takes place a bit later than in other districts.
Sindh Abadgar Board Kashmore chapter secretary general GM Khoso said the wheat procurement target in Kashmore-Kandhkot district is 200,000 bags. He revealed that following the delay in giving empty bags to growers, farmers have now refused to take the bags which has led to concerns that the procurement target may not be met this year.
Pay and pass
Though the district government has banned the inter-provincial transport of wheat after imposing Section 144, trucks and trailers carrying wheat are constantly going to Punjab, claimed Khoso, adding that food officials and police deployed at Dera More to check the transportation of wheat are allowing loaded trucks to cross over after takings bribes worth Rs2,000 and Rs4,000 per truck.
He also blamed food officials for the late opening of wheat procurement centres, due to which farmers were forced to sell their yield between Rs1,150 and Rs1,200 per 4kg - lower than the government-set support price.
Khoso lamented that the same story repeats itself every year and nothing is done to mitigate the suffering of farmers.
Deputy commissioners of Ghotki and Sukkur, as well as food department high-ups in Sukkur and Kashmore could not be reached for comments despite several attempts.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2016.