Uniform wheat rate a distant dream

Hundreds of wheat bags still missing from procurement centres


Talib Fareedi April 24, 2021
PHOTO: REUTERS

LAHORE:

Despite tall claims of implementing a uniform rate of wheat across the province, the authorities have failed to ensure the government’s rates as substandard wheat was being sold in the open market. As the government restricted the supply of wheat to other provinces, cases of hundreds of missing wheat bags emerged along with bags filled with sand for audit.

Even in the provincial capital Lahore, wheat is being sold between Rs47-Rs52 in different areas. Recently, the Anti-Corruption Establishment detected theft of over 1,700 wheat bags from the procurement centre. The value of missing wheat is estimated to be over Rs10 million. Upon receiving the information, an Anti-Corruption Establishment team raided a warehouse of the food department in Dera Ghazi Khan and arrested Food Inspector Idress Bughlani. The suspect had filled the wheat gunny bags with sand.

The wheat scam was unearthed at a wheat procurement centre in the Chotani area of Dera Ghazi Khan where a food department’s employee was arrested over charges of theft. The Anti-Corruption Establishment director general said 1,716 sacks of government wheat from a wheat procurement centre. Bughlani, in-charge wheat procurement centre, sold the quota wheat through forgery. The accused caused a loss of about Rs10 million to the exchequer by selling subsidised government wheat. The accused had sold 1,716 sacks of one and a half mount and replaced them with sacks full of sand and mud.

Also read 44,582 tonnes of wheat procured in Multan

The accused tried to create a crisis of subsidised flour in Ramazan Bazaars by embezzling wheat stocks. On the direction of ACE DG, a case has been registered against the food inspector in charge of the wheat procurement centre. A spokesman for the anti-graft watchdog said complaints of adulteration in wheat, hoarding and selling the quota wheat in the open market, have been received from several districts. He said mill owners were involved in the adulteration of wheat and were minting millions by selling substandard and low weight flour to the general public. The department has sought records from various institutions and flour mills. He said around 400 bags of stolen wheat have been recovered from the food inspector.

The accused has been remanded for another four days and more people involved in the theft will be arrested soon. Sources claimed that influential officials in the Punjab Food Department are involved in unjust wheat supply to different districts of Punjab. The wheat crisis across the province still exists despite the government imported the commodity after expending heavy sums of dollars. In July 2020, following a subsidy scandal of sugar mills, ACE made public a report on a wheat subsidy scam of over Rs261 million under the Ramazan Package 2018.

The ACE inquiry report highlighted that 667 flour mills availed subsidised wheat quota from the Punjab Food Department under the Ramazan Package 2018, of which 148 mills were found guilty of selling subsidised wheat in the market at a higher rate. The report also indicated that the flour mills sold subsidised wheat in the open market in connivance with food department officials instead of providing relief to the general public under the Ramazan Package. The ACE has estimated that a total loss of Rs261.37 million was caused to the provincial exchequer.

The anti-corruption watchdog has already recovered Rs206.48 million and efforts are being made to recover the remaining amount. The ACE has registered FIRs against delinquent flour mills and food department officers in Rawalpindi, Sargodha and Gujranwala regions. It pointed out that at that time it was a normal practice of the food department to issue wheat at the rate of Rs1,200 per 40 kilogrammes to the functional flour mills. But under Ramazan Package 2018, the department issued wheat at a subsidised rate of Rs800 per 40kg to provide relief in wheat flour price through Ramazan Bazaars and markets

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