The flour fluff

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LAHORE - It seems the Punjab government is totally unaware of the acute shortage of wheat flour in the open market across the province, as the official handouts only speak about the supply issues at the Ramazan bazaars.

While the commodity is in short supply in the open market, it has vanished from most of these bazaars, denting heavily the authorities’ claims of facilitating the faithful in the holy month. Not only that these Sasta Aata spots are negligible in number but the flour supplied there is also substandard. The official versions about the supplies and the efficacy of the scheme are mostly devoid of truth.

An official handout issued at Lahore, the seat of provincial government, depicted Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif telling a meeting of his courtiers about the benevolence of his administration.

He retold once more that they have set up fair price shops and 344 Ramazan bazaars, besides the 1,328 Dasterkhawan (free food points) the poor under the Rs3.5 billion Ramazan Package.

Then he performed the ritual of directing the officials to be vigilant and efficient and to visit Ramazan bazaars for ‘on-the-spot-action’ and submission of reports to him. These are exactly the same officials who are understandably regularly misreporting their boss, effectively keeping him ignorant of the ground situation.

The issue of shortage of flour, the main staple food of the country, is as old as the mountains. Each year we see a show staged between the ‘noble’ government and the ‘greedy’ millers, who are expediently shifted the whole burden of blame.

But the millers abhor the very idea of Ramadan packages as do many sensible citizens of this land of wheat abundance. Last month All Pakistan Flour Mills Association (APFMA) demanded the federal and provincial governments to do away with these Ramadan packages, which waste billions of rupees of public money each year. They rightly point out that much of these subsidy funds are lost to corruption by the food department officials, Utility Stores and other concerned across the country.

Practically, these packages benefit everybody but the common man. Why the central and provincial governments not adjust the subsidy in a way that it could lessen the burden of people throughout the year. Why the food and related departments are not quarantined of the corrupt public officials and civil servants. Reportedly, receipts under fictitious heads and provision of substandard wheat are matter of routine in the food departments now. And then, who owns the flour mills – obviously they are owned by the elite class that provides us with almost all of our ‘benevolent’ public representatives.

Admitting that the bazaars have fallen short of the supply, an official said on Thursday that Lahore District Coordination Officer Naseem Sadiq visited such spots after receiving complaints. A press release said that the DCO, who “also checked the quality of edibles”, “showed his satisfaction” over the performance of his subordinates.

The Saab Bahadur directed the officials to remain vigilant in Ramzan bazaars, telling them that “no negligence will be tolerated.” On the other hand, price control magistrates in the city claimed to have arrested 12 shopkeepers for overcharging and fined Rs309,000 over fleecing.

Interestingly, I myself went to the local market, in E-2 block of Johar Town, the same day to buy flour but I met with disappointment. Shiekh Saab at a store told me that they purchase flour from two Sheikhupora mills but both of those have stopped the supply for last many days. In search for the essential commodity, I finally reached a Desi Chakki and bought flour for Rs44 per kilogram.

I just wish someday my beloved chief minister goes to buy flour. If disguised properly, I challenge him to get it at the price he has determined for the commodity.

Courtesy:  Nation

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