Disgruntled flour millers

Mazhir Ali Chandio, Daily Times Staff Photographer

Photo: Mazhir Ali Chandio, Daily Times Staff Photographer

All Balochistan Flour Mills Association is set to demonstrate its strength today (Thursday) in a strike call to protest what it called illegal raids on their mills. The mill owners are protesting against the raids, allegedly conducted by a ‘private militia’ of Balochistan Food Minister Ali Madad Jattak, and against the abduction of a flour mill owner.

I spoke to ABFMA President Abdul Wahid Barrach on Wednesday who said that the organisation had given a strike call last week to protest against the kidnapping of a colleague, Abudul Samad Barrach. They had, however, called off the strike after ‘successful meetings’ with the Balochistan chief secretary and the capital city police officer, who assured them of Barrach’s immediate recovery, he said.

Protest: He said that the latest call for strike had been given to protest against the continued harassment of the mill owners by the provincial minister. Barrach alleged that personnel of Jattak’s ‘militia’ raided several flour mills and took thousands of flour sacks into custody.

“Those who conducted the raids were not the Food Department officials. They were the private gunmen of the minister who had come to plunder our mills. We want our flour returned,” alleged Barrach, warning that if the minister continued to act illegally against the mill owners, they would call a countrywide strike against the government’s policies. He said all 52 flour mills in Balochistan, including 36 in Quetta, would remain shut on Thursday in protest. “At least 85 percent of the flour that we currently have in the stock comes from our private sources and only 15 percent is provided by the government. There are 550 dealers who have been given permits by the government and we cater to their requirements. The government should consider the amount of flour it is producing before accusing us of smuggling,” he said.

Blackmail: Ali Madad Jattak rejected ABFMA’s allegations and accused them of ‘blackmailing’ the government in order to legitimise the smuggling of flour to Afghanistan. Jattak warned the protesting owners that the government would auction the flour held by the mills and cancel their permits if they went on strike to ‘blackmail’ the provincial government. “I will not let smuggling take place at any cost. Those who are determined to go on strike will have their permits immediately cancelled. I will personally go to such flour mills, cancel their permits and publicly auction all the flour there among the poor masses,” he told me via telephone.

The minister said he had formed secret teams and tasked them to check the smuggling of flour to Afghanistan. In this regard, the teams had confiscated around 800 sacks of flour at Balali checkpost and impounded four trucks.

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