Provinces told not to politicise wheat scheme for flood-hit
ISLAMABAD AND LAHORE: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif asked Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which are ruled by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its allies, on Thursday to join the Centre’s wheat scheme for flood-hit areas. He asked them to put politics aside and give seeds to farmers affected by the floods in province, which have been devastating.
On the other hand, Punjab Chief Minister Parvez Elahi said that the federal government was keeping the state from getting its wheat quota and wouldn’t let the provincial government import the grain.
The prime minister was in charge of a meeting of the National Flood Response and Coordination Centre (NFRCC). He asked KP and Punjab to work with the federal government on an initiative that will get funding for wheat seeds based on a “50-50 formula.”
He also said that Sindh and Balochistan had agreed before, but that the KP and Punjab governments were refusing to work together and using the issue to play politics. “I beg you to take the offer into account of the farmers who were hurt by the flood. “And if you still don’t like it, don’t try to make it seem like the Center isn’t helping you,” he said during a meeting in which the chief secretaries of Punjab and KP also took part by phone.
The prime minister said that the large floods had created a situation that had never happened before. He also said that the damage caused by the floods would affect the amount of wheat grown the following year.
“Don’t bring in”
The prime minister said he wouldn’t let the private sector import wheat at any cost because it would put pressure on the country’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves.
“Because of the emergency, I won’t let the private sector import wheat,” he said. “We even negotiated with the lowest bidder and got discounts [on wheat].”
The prime minister said the government couldn’t even spend an extra dollar. “…I won’t let the private sector make a lot of money, use Pakistan’s foreign exchange to pay for it, and then sell it to the customer. He said, “This will not happen, and it will not happen.”
Punjab demands intervention
In a letter to the prime minister, CM Elahi asked him to help get Punjab one million tonnes of wheat, since the province’s 2.85 million tonnes of wheat reserves are expected to run out by the end of February 2023.
In his letter, Mr. Elahi said that Punjab had bought 4.448MT of wheat this season, which, when added to the 0.780MT of wheat that was already in stock, made a total of 5.156MT of wheat that could be used to meet the needs of the people of Punjab province for the whole season.
He said that the Punjab government started giving out wheat early on May 19 at a discount with the full approval of the federal government. Now, he said, it needs an extra quota to fill up its strategic stocks.
Mr. Elahi said that the province’s government had asked the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (NFSR) to send 1.0MT of wheat through Passco in the past. He said that the wheat load was supposed to arrive in October, but that “repeated regret from the government, especially at this last minute on September 29th, raised concerns.” He asked the prime minister for permission to send 1.0MT of wheat through Passco right away, on top of the 0.3MT that was already being sent out.
Sources who knew about the history of the dispute told Dawn that the Punjab government had asked Passco for 500,000 tonnes of its 3 million-tonne share. Passco took a break in July. Later, it said that it could share half of its one million tonnes of imports, and Punjab agreed right away. But the plan was later turned down, and the province’s government was told to talk to the federation.
Separately, PML-Q leader Moonis Elahi responded to the prime minister’s claims that wheat was being imported through the private sector. He said that the Punjab government was asking the federal government to give the province 1 MT of wheat through Passco or Trading Corporation of Pakistan. “The Punjab province government would also pay for the necessary wheat,” he said, adding that the prime minister should stop using “gimmicks” to talk about something important.