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Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Impoverished households struggle to purchase flour

By Vaseline May30,2024

LAHORE:

For every household entrenched in inescapable poverty, hunger is the essence of their daily existence, especially in times of rising inflation and rampant corruption in the country, where low-income citizens have to compete for something as basic as a bag of subsidized wheat.

Despite the Punjab government spending over Rs700 billion on the relaxed wheat program in the last fifteen years, a large percentage of deserving low-income families could not receive the cheap relief packages due to the dirty practices of cartels, profiteers, hoarders and smugglers operating throughout the province. Therefore, the provincial government finally decided to abolish the general reduced flour quota system, leaving disadvantaged families in dire straits as they continue to wait for an alternative, transparent and reliable program to reduce food prices.

Akram, a slum dweller from Lahore, revealed that most of the people in his locality were daily wage laborers, supporting a large family and therefore could not afford to buy flour at the market price. “The flour consumption of large families is quite high. Whenever the government announces a subsidized flour scheme, people wait for hours at the truck points to buy flour at the subsidized rates. However, the corrupt mafia benefits more from the program than us,” Akram said.

According to Express Tribune sources, the Punjab Food Department purchased 3.5 to 4 million tonnes of wheat every year, which would be supplied to flour mills at cheap rates to encourage supply of subsidized flour to the low-income masses. Unfortunately, however, the department had to incur huge losses as the flour mills produced less subsidized flour instead of following the government-set milling ratio of 70 to 30. Moreover, government flour bags were collected from shops and factories and their packaging changed in secret warehouses from where they were smuggled into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Finally, several inactive grist mills also took government wheat from warehouses and then sold it to the active grist mills for a profit.

“The subsidized wheat quota system has been the cause of corruption and malpractice and has caused a lot of damage to the sector. The system must have been abolished long ago. Liberalizing the wheat and flour market, besides providing targeted subsidies to deserving families, would be the wisest decision,” said Liaquat Ali Khan, central leader and former chairman of Punjab Flour Milling Industry.

Noted economist and former Punjab Finance Minister Salman Shah opined that introducing blanket subsidies on food grains is never beneficial given the pervasiveness of corruption and smuggling. “Targeted subsidies should be given to deserving people through cash handouts. If a reliable and transparent database is prepared and the subsidy amount is transferred to the verified account of the selected people, then this would be a more appropriate method,” he opined.

Speaking to the Express Tribune on the issue, provincial Food Minister Bilal Yasin reiterated that the government’s wheat quota and procurement system have become a source of corruption. “The common man did not benefit from this plan; therefore it was worthless and had to be abolished. As part of the Ramadan care package, six million families have distributed free flour and other items at their doorsteps. In the future, targeted subsidies will be given directly to the deserving people,” Yasin assured.

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