Balochistan’s flour crisis
By Malik Siraj Akbar
QUETTA: Balochistan’s acute flour shortage has further intensified despite repeated government assurances to immediately grapple with the crisis, which has compelled people to resort to strident protests.
Kalat city remained completely shut on Sunday as a shutter down strike was observed there against the flour scarcity. All shops and business centres remained completely closed throughout the day in protest against the government’s failure to provide them flour on time. Similar reactions have been seen in the provincial capital, Chaman and many other parts of the province. The protestors accused the government officials of deliberately creating the floor shortage in order to benefit the vested interests.
Shortage of wheat flour persisted in Quetta on Sunday with the people facing difficulties in the procurement of flour in major townships of the provincial capital. A heavy gas and power load shedding has further added to the people’s woes in several parts of the province amid extremely cold climate.
Citizens complain that flour prices have abruptly skyrocketed throughout the province due to covert collaboration of the government authorities with smugglers and hoarders who are smuggling wheat to the neighboring countries of Iran and Afghanistan in return of much higher rates. Furthermore, even those who are financially stable enough to buy flour in the open market prices are equally unable to get the required amount of flour due to its shortage from the market.
Presently, the price of flour per kilogramme is Rs 23 to Rs 25 while 20 kg and 100 kg sacks of flour are being sold for Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 respectively.
On its part, the government of Balochistan has said it will soon overcome the ongoing crisis.
Secretary Food Azam Baloch said the situation in the province is under control and people need not worry. While the provincial government already has a stock of one month, it is going to import one million more sacks within one or two days.
“The real problem with Balochistan is that our quota with the federal government is very small. The province needs 75,000 metric tonne flour per month. We provide 38,000 metric tonne to the flourmill owners but due to lack of enough financial resources, we can’t give them more subsidies,” he said during a press conference on Sunday.
Another government official said that the provincial government has opened some 130 fair price shops which will be given 40,000 sacks of flour.
“The number of these fair price shops will be increased in the coming days,” the food secretary added.
He said the DCOs had been instructed to form monitoring teams in order to look into the mater in their respective districts. “We have learnt that Khuzdar, Kalat, Loralai, Dera Allah Yar and some other districts have still not received the flour of their quota,” he said.
Government officials say they are confident that they will soon overcome this crisis and are trying their utmost to provide flour to the people at affordable rates.
Presently, the government and flourmills have unanimously fixed Rs 278 for a sack of 20 kg. In order to ensure the smooth supply of the flour to the citizens, the provincial government has also fixed 30 points in Quetta from where people can purchase flour in accordance with the rates fixed by the government.
Certain places have been chosen for the sale of flour, which are easily accessible for the people. These points have been established at the directorate of the food, Mizan Chowk, Archer Road, Sabzal Chowk, Brewery Road, Shahra-e-Iqbal, Khuda-e-Dad Road, Sadiq Shaeed Park, Alamdar Road, Shahbaz Town, Killi Almo, Podh Kili Chowk, Kansi Killa, Ghose Abad, Tareen road and Nawan Killi.
At all such places in different localities, hundreds of people were found queuing up for getting flour at government-controlled price. But they still complained that it was not possible for them to get flour easily as there were very large queues while procuring flour.
“The main reason for the current shortage is hoarding and it’s smuggling to Afghanistan and Iran. It is not for the first time that during the regime of caretakers such a shortage has been witnessed. The flour is always the first victim and the vested interests resort to hoarding in order to make quick profit,” a senior economist told Daily Times.
He recollected that a similar shortage of flour persisted in the province in 1999 when the army took over power to oust Nawaz Sharif.
“There was a bumper crop in the country and the government boasted that it was going to export wheat to other countries a few months before. All of a sudden, there was a shortage and the millers and traders were conniving with the smugglers and underworld smuggling out the flour directly from the flourmills to Afghanistan,” he added.
Home Secretary Furqan Bhudar said the government had rounded up as many as 16 hoarders in Quetta and that stern action will be taken against them. However, it is not easy for the government to completely weed out the smuggling on Pak-Afghan border areas. “Several parts of the border have been sealed but since it is such a large border area, smugglers do manage to cross the border at some points,” admitted the home secretary.