With unfettered profiteering, flour prices shoot up

Food dept officials supplying more wheat than fixed quota; govt denies.

Sarfaraz Memon January 07, 2013
Sources claimed the district food officials were selling wheat for Rs2,950 per bag with a commission of Rs150 compared to the price of Rs2,800 set by the government. PHOTO: FILE

SUKKUR: An artificial shortage of wheat, allegedly caused by profiteers in connivance with officials of the Sindh food department, has sent flour prices soaring, which stand in the range of Rs38 to Rs40 per kg compared to earlier rate of Rs32.

This comes despite repeated claims by the Sindh government that it has ample stocks of wheat and after meeting the needs of flour mills until the end of April, about 900,000 tons will be left. By that time, a new crop will start arriving in the market, making it possible for the government to export the surplus.

Before the price surge, the provincial government was supplying wheat to flour mills and Chakkis under a liberal policy, but from the first week of January it has started applying quota. Under this system, it is supplying 550 wheat bags of 100kg to each flour mill every day and 40 bags to every Chakki per stone per month.

According to sources in the food department, taking advantage of the quota system, the food officials, at the behest of high-ups, are supplying unlimited wheat bags to their favourite flour mills by taking commission.

Sources claimed the district food officials were selling wheat for Rs2,950 per bag with a commission of Rs150 compared to the price of Rs2,800 set by the government.

After getting wheat at high prices and taking advantage of shortage, the mill owners are selling the commodity in the open market for Rs3,400, making an easy profit of Rs450 per bag. This has led to a sharp increase in flour prices to Rs38 to Rs40 per kg compared to Rs32 earlier.

As if this was not enough, sources said, thousands of wheat bags had also been sent to Karachi for their release in the open market. Smuggling of wheat to Afghanistan was also continuing without any hindrance.

Sources said there was no fear of accountability in the food department. If any official is held for shortage of wheat bags in the storage, he, instead of being punished, is asked to pay for the missing commodity. In this way, he keeps the commission and pays actual price of Rs2,800 for a bag.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Officer In Charge of Food Department’s Vigilance Team Shahnawaz Magsi dismissed the allegations of corruption against government officials and put the entire blame on flour millers.

He stressed that the government supplied a huge wheat stock to the mills under the liberal policy, but they instead of giving relief to people started selling the commodity in the open market at sharply higher prices.

Expressing his ignorance about price hike in Sukkur and adjoining areas, Magsi pointed out that the government had taken notice of the artificial price increase in lower Sindh and pressed the millers to sell flour at Rs32 per kg. “Any mill found selling flour for more than Rs32 will be sealed,” he declared.

When Sukkur Food Department Deputy Director Qaiser Khan Unnar was approached, he expressed complete ignorance about the price hike and involvement of government officials.

He, however, said he would visit the market to determine the exact reasons, adding corrupt officials would be dealt with strictly.

Sindh Flour Mills Association Chairman Mumtaz Shaikh blamed vested interests for creating an artificial shortage of wheat. Accusing big millers of large-scale corruption, he said he was aware of a mill owner of Sukkur, who purchased 96,000 wheat bags in December and sold them in the open market.

“When the government is releasing adequate quota to the flour mills, what is the reason behind the increase in prices,” he asked and said, “corruption has pervaded every section of society, but big cartels have crossed all limits.”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2013.

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