PESHAWAR/ KARACHI/ LAHORE:
The economic instability triggered by the political uncertainty has made it a rough year for the poor and the middle class; and if the current economic meltdown prevails then the upcoming year will not be any better.
Presently the chief concern for the masses is the high flour prices, which will keep rising in 2023 if supply shortages are not addressed and effective price control mechanisms are not established.
As per a market survey carried out by the Express Tribune, currently in Karachi, general stores are retailing a 5 kilogram (kg) bag of flour from anywhere between Rs 600 to Rs 750. Similarly, in Lahore, where flour is mostly sold in 10, 15, and 20 kg bags, a 10 kg bag is retailing for around Rs 800 - despite there being a Rs 200 billion provincial government subsidy on flour.
Meanwhile, in Peshawar the prices are nearly double, as an 8 kg bag of flour costs Rs 1,500 and a 20 kg bag costs Rs 2,700. Consequently, local tandoors in Karachi and Lahore now charge Rs 18 for a roti and Rs 25 for a naan; whereas, the oven operators in Peshawar are charging anywhere between Rs 20 to Rs 40 for roti and naan. This upsurge in prices of flour and bread has perturbed citizens, as they feel that the government has done little to curb the double digit inflation or assist during this time of financial hardship. “For those who make a daily wage buying a bag of flour has become a fantasy,” lamented Babar, resident of the Kala Pul area in Karachi.
He was of the view that the pace at which rates were increasing would soon make roti a luxury commodity only meant for the rich.Concurring with Babar, Farkhunda Shehzad, a resident of the Surjani Town area of Karachi, said that even the provincial government’s cheap flour scheme was of no use to them. “The demand for the government provided flour bags far exceeds the supply. Hence, we have no choice but to buy expensive flour from the local stores,” said Shehzad. Similarly, Sajid Khan, a resident of Lahore, was of the view that the government had failed on various fronts as people were having difficulties feeding their families due to their poor administration. Agreeing with Khan, another resident of the city, Shahid Aslam, who is a teacher by profession, said that it had become challenging to make ends meet on a low income.
“The government should at least enforce some price control mechanisms to make flour cheaper if it cannot assist us in any other way,” Aslam lamented. While it remains to be seen whether any price control mechanisms will be implemented, Farid Qureshi, Secretary of the Karachi Retailer Grocers Association, opined that the increase in flour prices was down to poor governance. “There is a big gap in demand and supply, which some retailers are exploiting but the government has not addressed this issue,” remarked Qureshi. Chairman of the Pakistan Flour Mills Association Sindh, Chaudhry Aamir, also threw the ball in the government’s court. “90% of the wheat stock is in the government’s control but some hoarders are selling it illegally and then raising prices every day. The government should start a crackdown against such people,” he suggested. Aamir further said that if the government wanted to prevent a crisis, it should allow the private sector to import wheat and establish a coherent policy addressing the wheat crisis. However, Syed Imdad Shah, who is the Director in the provincial food department, believes that the government was doing everything possible. “We are already providing flour at cheap rates in bachat bazaars and various other points across Karachi,” claimed Shah.
“The higher prices at stores, on the other hand, fall under the district administration’s domain and they should look into it,” he added.
Punjab’s Director Food, Shahzeb Saeed, feels the same way as Shah. “The government has already given a subsidy on flour that is why a 20 kg bag of flour costs Rs 1,295. We are making every effort to help the masses,” Saeed told the Express Tribune.
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