HYDERABAD: With wheat farmers in upper Sindh protesting the delay in wheat procurement by the Sindh government, Sindh Food Minister Hari Ram Kishori Lal claimed that half of the 1.4 million tonne-procurement target has been achieved.
Lal maintained on Saturday that around 700,000 tonnes of wheat had been procured from Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and Nawabshah divisions. "The government will achieve the wheat-procurement target [of 1.4 million tonnes] in next 15 to 20 days," he added.
Around 4 million tonnes of harvest is expected in the province this year and the provincial government has set the target of buying 35 per cent of the total crop in view of the wheat shortage last year. The provincial government did not purchase wheat in 2019.
Row over wheat purchase persists
According to Lal, the food department has bought 65 per cent of the target purchase from Mirpurkhas division. "The wheat harvest starts late in upper Sindh, where the procurement will continue throughout the month of May," he said.
The minister further claimed that his ministry had ensured fair distribution of gunny sacks among farmers and the paper work for wheat buying had also been simplified.
Farmers in Sukkur and Larkana divisions, however, have been complaining about inordinate delays in the purchase of their crop.
"Barely half of the designated wheat procurement centres have become functional in Khairpur and that too when the harvest season is nearly ending," complained Zubair Ahmed Phulpoto, a local wheat farmer, who led a protest in Khairpur. The protesters also opposed the posting of an allegedly corrupt officer, who faced an inquiry by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), as the district food controller in Khairpur.
Slow wheat procurement worries Centre
Commenting on the NAB's inquiry report, the food minister said the alleged corruption was reported before he took reins of the ministry.
"I myself conducted departmental inquiry of the theft of 168,000 wheat bags [of 100 kilogrammes] and submitted a report to the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE)," he added.
The minister maintained that he had sent another report on the theft of another 194,000 bags, which were stolen from Malir and Naushero Feroze, to the Sindh chief secretary. According to him, the ACE is also conducting an inquiry of the theft.
After rampant complaints of corruption in the food department, the NAB in Sukkur initiated nine separate inquiries.
Sindh food dept blamed for lagging in wheat procurement
According to a recent report, NAB teams raided food department warehouses in Sukkur, Larkana, Ghotki, Nawabshah, Naushero Feroze, Khairpur, Sanghar, Kashmore and Qambar, finding 164,757 metric tonnes of wheat, worth over Rs5.35 billion, missing from the warehouses. Additionally, more than 22,000 metric tonnes of wheat, worth Rs745 million, that were sent to Karachi too failed to reach government warehouses.
During the course of the investigations, the NAB recovered Rs2.11 billion from flour mills owners and food officials, besides securing cheques of billions of rupees from another four mill owners.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2020.