Protest continues: Food minister demands end to strike as flour crisis feared

He alleges that wheat meant for Karachi is being smuggled to Balochistan.

Our Correspondent April 24, 2014
"We will not fulfil irrational demands because they just want to smuggle wheat to other provinces," Sindh food minister Jam Mahtab Dahar. PHOTO: ONLINE/FILE

KARACHI: The Sindh minister for food, Jam Mahtab Dahar, has asked the Pakistan Flour Mills Association [PFMA] to stop their ongoing strike, threatening to cancel their licences if they do not comply.

“The owners of flour mills are blackmailing the government,” he said while addressing a press conference at his office on Thursday. “Instead of selling the flour in Karachi, they are smuggling it to Balochistan.”

After the ban on the movement of wheat, the minister announced to impose the same ban on flour, directing officials to take strict action against anyone found smuggling wheat and flour to other provinces.

The minister rejected the allegations levelled by the flour millers’ association that officials of the food department were harassing them for bribes. “There is no corruption in my department,” he claimed.  “Soon after taking charge, I eradicated all corruption in the food ministry. When there was rampant corruption, PFMA officials remained tight-lipped and now that I have brought about drastic changes to remove it, they complain.”

However, Dahar said that he was willing to listen to the complaints of the mill owners but they went on strike before their claims could be confirmed. “We formed a vigilance committee following the complaints lodged by mill owners but they went on strike without giving the committee enough time to file their findings,” he said.

Dahar claimed that the flour millers were demanding free movement of wheat and the removal of the inter-provincial ban on flour and wheat movement. According to the food minister, the association is also demanding that the government retracts its decision to increase wheat support price from Rs1,200 per 40 kilogramme to Rs1,250. However, he is determined to not give in to the demand. “The government has given an incentive to wheat growers by increasing the wheat support price, which will not be taken back.”

Dahar said that PFMA wants an increase in the quota of wheat so that they can smuggle it to other provinces. “We are currently providing the mill owners 3,000 bags daily for Karachi but they want it to be increased to 10,000 bags,” he said. “We will not fulfil irrational demands just because they want to sell the wheat to other provinces.”

The minister announced that he will not let the strike create an artificial flour crisis in the city.  “I have directed government officials to make sure that five mills work round-the-clock in Karachi, the government will provide them the wheat in order to avoid any crisis.”

The other side

The flour millers, whose strike has now entered its fifth day, said the officials of the food department were harassing them and demanding bribes. They stressed the need to decrease the wheat support price and end the ban on the movement of wheat. “The food inspectors are demanding brides on each truck,” said a statement issued by the Sindh chapter of the PFMA.

Following the strike, the wheat supply from other districts of the province has been stopped. This may lead to a flour crisis in Karachi if appropriate measures are not taken to resolve the issue. 

Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2014.


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