One dies in Mirpurkhas stampede as flour crisis turns ugly

Balochistan minister says provincial wheat stock totally consumed


Z Ali/Rizwan Asif January 08, 2023
Chaotic scenes were witnessed in all parts of Sindh where flour was being sold through mini-trucks or vans. PHOTO: TWITTER/@irfanmirwanii

HYDERABAD/ LAHORE ':

The absolute disarray in the sale of the Sindh government’s subsidised flour to the people resulted in the death of a man, a father of seven, in Mirpurkhas district on Saturday during a stampede.

The death occurred near the commissioner’s office where two mini-trucks carrying 200 bags each were selling flour outside Gulistan-e-Baldia Park.

The mini-trucks were selling flour bags of 10-kg each at the rate of Rs65 per kg. People had gathered around the vehicles in a disorganised way, pushing each other to grab the bag before the others.

According to police, 40-year-old labourer Harsingh Kolhi fell on the road during the hustle and was instantly trampled upon by the surrounding people.

What triggered the stampede is still not known.

Kolhi’s family staged a sit-in outside the Mirpurkhas Press Club for five hours, demanding action against the officials of the food department.

They dispersed after the police assured them of taking action against those responsible for the mishap.

The incident’s FIR has not been lodged so far.

Similar scenes of chaos were witnessed in all parts of Sindh where flour was being sold through mini-trucks or vans.

Separately, three females, including a minor girl, suffered injuries while being crushed under the feet of a crowd when a stampede broke out outside a flour mill in Shaheed Benazirabad’s (formerly Nawabshah) Sakrand town while buying cheap flour at the government rate.

The prices of wheat and flour have hit unprecedented levels amid the ongoing crisis.

After an uptick of Rs20, flour in Karachi is being sold from Rs140 per kg to Rs160 per kg. In Islamabad and Peshawar, a 10-kg bag of flour is being sold at Rs1,500 per kg. In Quetta, a 20-kg bag of flour is being sold at Rs2,800.

The price of wheat continues to rise in the Punjab’s open market. Mill owners in Punjab have increased the price of flour to Rs160 per kg, while the rate of a 15-kg private bag of flour in the province has increased to Rs2,155.

It has come to the fore that the ongoing wheat and flour crisis in the country was because of the miscalculation of imported grain requirements by the provincial governments and the Centre’s delay in buying it from other countries.

Also read: Flour crisis deepens in Punjab

Sources said the tussle between the federal and Punjab governments was responsible for the wheat crisis in the country. They added that the Punjab Food Department was unable to correctly estimate how much wheat was required to be imported.

The sources said Punjab had first demanded the supply of 500,000 tonnes of wheat and then increased it to one million tonnes.

The federal government kept giving its verbal consent to the province to provide it with one million tonnes but later went back on its word.

The decision to supply 500,000 tonnes of wheat to Punjab was also delayed.

The sources said that the official wheat and flour quota as well as their prices also kept fluctuating with the change of governments in the province.

Former Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar of the PTI had fixed the price of a bag of flour at Rs1,100 and the rate of wheat at Rs1,950. Later, when PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz became the CM, the rate of a flour bag was reduced to Rs980 and the price of wheat to Rs1,765.

However, during the tenure of incumbent Punjab CM Parvez Elahi, the price of a flour bag was jacked up to Rs1,295 and the rate of wheat to Rs2,300. The officials of the provincial food department could not increase the daily wheat quota in time due to the shortage of the grains.

At present, Punjab needs 25,000 tonnes of wheat per day, but it was being provided with just 21,000 tonnes.

To end the ongoing crisis in Punjab, the daily quota of flour mills will have to be increased from the level of two years ago – 24,000 tonnes.

The pretext to save 200,000 tonnes of wheat for the upcoming Ramazan package will have to be abandoned. Otherwise, the price of private wheat can reach Rs6,000 per maund in Punjab and the price of a private flour bag can hit Rs3,000.

Because of the shortage of government flour, there has been a huge rush of people at the subsided truck points across Punjab. The provincial food department has considered increasing the daily quota to 24,000 tonnes.

Meanwhile, Balochistan’s Minister for Food Zamarak Achakzai also made a startling revelation, stating that the wheat stock in the province had “completely ended”, and noted that the crisis for the commodity in the province was “intensifying”.

Addressing a news conference on the issue, the provincial minister maintained that Balochistan had not received the required stock of wheat.

“Out of 200,000 sacks of wheat, 10,000 sacks have been received,” he said, noting that they had requested Punjab CM to send 600,000 sacks.

Achakzai said the Punjab CM had assured them of sending the complete stock, but complained that Elahi did not keep his promise.

He said when they contacted the Centre, Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) sent them 200,000 sacks of wheat.

“We had 500,000 sacks of wheat which were consumed in four months,” the provincial minister said.

Achakzai said that Balochistan was 85% dependent on Punjab and Sindh for wheat, adding that both provinces had imposed a ban on the export of the commodity, which had “worsened” the situation.

He said Balochistan immediately needed 400,000 sacks of wheat, warning otherwise the crisis would intensify.

He lamented that the provincial kitty “did not have funds” which was why they could not give any subsidy. He claimed that under the NFC, Centre owed Rs30 billion to Balochistan.

“We will protest against the Centre and Punjab government if help is not extended to us.”

The provincial minister regretted that Balochistan did not get share even in the flour which was provided for the utility stores.

He said the damaged wheat in Naseerabad belonged to Passco and local landowners.

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