LAHORE: Flour mills in Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan will stay closed for an indefinite period from Monday (today) as their owners are protesting against the “high-handedness” of district authorities and the food department.
Addressing a news conference in Lahore on Sunday, The office-bearers of the Pakistan Flour Mills Association said districts officials were not only creating difficulties for the industry but also for the federal government.
They demanded that the government should allow owners of flour mills to purchase wheat from the open market and also lift the unconstitutional ban on the interprovincial supply of flour.
The PFMA officials added that district authorities should be refrained from interfering in the process of wheat purchase and “bogus” cases filed against flour mill owners should be withdrawn.
The association said the increase in the price of wheat in the open market would make flour more expensive. It demanded that the government should set a new price for flour that was in line with the rate of wheat in the open market.
PFMA Central Chairman Asim Raza accused the district authorities of confiscating wheat during their raids and sealing mills.
“The food department staff is harassing mill owners,” he added.
PFMA Punjab Chairman Abdul Rauf Mukhtar said the mills would have nothing to grind with no wheat available.
The PFMA officials said the food department had allowed mills to store wheat for 72 hours for threshing. Around 245 mills were issued permits under this formula. The mills operated under this formula for quite some time. Later, the districts officials rejected the permits and the food department ordered the mills to keep a processing stock for 48 hours. The mills had followed the new guidelines for three days when the department reduced the time to 24 hours and then to 12 hours.
The association said the mill owners still complied with the government’s directives but then the officials started harassing them.
It maintained that the officers of the food department were unnecessarily harassing mills owners to achieve their target.
The chairman of the PFMA Balochistan was also present at the news conference.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Raza said raids were being carried out at flour mills in Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha, Gujrat and other areas and cases were being registered against the owners.
He added that said flour mills in Sindh were buying wheat freely and also storing it, but those in Punjab were not allowed to do so.
Mukhtar told The Express Tribune that the price of wheat per maund in the open market had increased by more than Rs100.
“The government is not releasing wheat and owners are buying wheat from the open market. At present, the per maund price of wheat in the markets is about Rs1,500,” he added.
He said flour mills were buying expensive wheat and providing cheap flour to the people. “Therefore, an increase in prices is inevitable.”
According to sources, the Punjab Food Department had set a target of purchasing 4.5 million metric tonnes of wheat but so far only 3.5 million tonnes has been procured.
Thus, the food department is facing a shortfall of one million tonnes in the procurement. The procurement of wheat is to be completed by the first week of June. The procurement season is coming to an end but the food department does not have time to meet the target due to the coming Eidul Fitr holidays.