Mismanaged affairs: Punjab agricultural marketing dept in dire straits

Published: October 17, 2019
A Reuters file photo of an agricultural field.

A Reuters file photo of an agricultural field.

LAHORE: As a result of the failure of the provincial government to chalk out and implement new rules governing the auction of crops, the Punjab Agricultural Marketing Department has lately been suffering from an intense administrative and financial crisis.

According to sources, the provincial authorities are reportedly facing difficulties in regulating, monitoring and stabilising crop prices due to the ambiguity associated with the application of the old and the new system of agricultural marketing and its associated rules. The confusion in price mechanism has also started to affect the prices of fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, the Punjab government has expressed dissatisfaction over the draft rules prepared by a committee formed three weeks ago, following which consultant services are sought for the purpose.

Sources further revealed that the provincial government promulgated an ordinance to establish the Punjab Agricultural Marketing Regulatory Authority (PAMRA) on October 15, because of which previous regulations became null and void.

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Speaking to The Express Tribune, Punjab’s special secretary for agricultural marketing Zahid Gondal maintained that PAMRA has been formed with the purpose to regulate the sale and purchase of food grains with the view to ensure benefit of the farmers.

“The authority has also been formed to protect consumers from high prices and price manipulations,” he said.

Per the new law, the ordinance would be fully implemented within 60 days during which PAMRA’s chairman, vice chairman and other committee members must be appointed, while the law must also undergo parliamentary approval from the Punjab Assembly within 90 days.

A Reuters representational image.

Following the advice of the agricultural secretary and special secretary for agricultural marketing, an eleven-member committee was formed on September 23 with the task to present recommendations and draft rules for agricultural marketing by September 29.

However, the committee could not chalk out its final recommendations even after a lapse of three weeks, per sources. So far, the committee has not even obtained basic information about the staff, assets, income and outstanding payments of the market committees. On the other hand, the recommendations which have been formulated until now are controversial and confusing at best.

The committee has advised the imposition of a one per cent fee on value of agricultural crops auctioned in the markets and 0.5 per cent fee on products of agro-based industry. However, officials of the provincial agricultural department maintain that imposition of the varied market fee on the two types of products will bring in losses as farmers would sell their produce to agro-based industries for higher prices.

Consequently, the supply of food grains in the market will be affected while changes in prices and availability of vegetables and fruits will disturb the consumers. The committee, therefore, suggested that uniform fees be applied to both the markets and the agro-based industry.

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What’s more, the committee could also not chalk out practical recommendations pertaining to salaries and pension of the staff serving in the market committees, who have been demanding a centralised system for the purpose. Sources also revealed that the recommendations presented by the committee regarding pay-scales of employees and secretaries of the market committee are against the orders of Lahore High Court (LHC).

“The committee set up for the formulation of rules in this regard did not present satisfactory recommendations due to which in a meeting held on Wednesday, the PAMRA chairman Naveed Bhandar has decided to hire the services of a competent lawyer,” Gondal shared.

“The incumbent will serve PAMRA as its consultant, who will be assisted by high-performing market secretaries working for the agricultural marketing department for the formulation of PAMRA rules,” he added.

The consultant, he said, will also be assisted by retired secretaries with legal education and ample experience in the field.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2019.

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