Focus on real issues
Prime Minister Imran Khan is determined to resolve the real issues that confront the masses. Sustained administrative actions are bearing fruits as the prices of food commodities are going down in the market. The prices of vegetables wheat, rice, pulses and poultry items have registered fall from 20 to 50 percent. However, market rate of onions is very high and may come down when local production will come within the next two months. However, sugar is still sold at Rs.80 per kilogram. The reason is that Sugar Mills Association had decided in January to not purchase sugarcane at support price of Rs.210 per 40 kilogram from farmers and had stopped crushing. It will certainly compel farmers to reduce areas under cultivation of sugar for the next season to avoid recurring losses.
Another reason of high price of sugar in open market is that millers have withheld big stocks from releasing it to the market. District Administrations are conducting intelligence based raids on warehouse of sugar mills. Assistant Commissioner Ahmadpur East raided Etifaq Sugar Mills and seized a stock of 40,000 bags of sugar. However, it would be worthwhile to avoid the practice of pick and choose. Anti-hoarding operation should be across the board. Opposition has already alleged that no action is being taken against the owners of sugar mills who are affiliated with the ruling party. In an interview with a private TV Channels, prominent PTI leader Jhangir Tareen repudiated the allegation that members of the ruling party were involved in sugar price hike across the country. He said that Prime Minister has directed probe into this matter and findings of inquiry will bring everything in the open. It merits mention that Prime Minister had tasked Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to probe the recent sugar and wheat crises. The Agency had submitted its report. However, Prime Minister was not satisfied with from the contents of report and 20 supplementary questions have been given to the FIA to enlarge the scope of the probe in wheat and sugar crisis.
In addition to robust administrative actions against hoarding and profiteering, FBR has issued two separate Statutory Revenue Orders (SROs), waiving off therein regulatory duty on the import of wheat and sugar. It will facilitate private sector in speedy import of these commodities, which will certainly bring down their prices in the retail market if the supplies don not end up in the stocks of cartels. Competitive Commission of Pakistan needs to be empowered to curb cartelization of food commodities by giving it political and administrative support which will enable it to ensure fair competition in the wholesale market. This Commission had been made dysfunction in 2008 and has remained toothless over the past 12 years.
ECC has decided procurement of 8.25 million tonnes of wheat in the upcoming harvesting season. But the target may not be achieved as farmers have increased area under cultivation of this crop. Standing wheat crop has been damaged by locust storms in Southern Punjab and Interior Sindh. Last year wheat purchase target under public sector was fixed 6 million tonnes but actual procurement was 4 million tonnes although there was negligible damage by natural calamities. Minimum support price of wheat has been fixed Rs.1365 per 40 kilograms whereas the input and labour cost is Rs.1350 for the same quantity. A realistic increase in the minimum support price of wheat and lowering of input cost will encourage farmers to bring more areas under the cultivation of wheat. Likewise, government must ensure timely payment of support price of sugarcane by the mills’ owners.
The Prime Minister has also chaired a meeting to discuss ways and means for reasonable reduction in the electricity tariff. He has now complete knowledge of the Nitti Gritty of shady power purchase agreements made in previous governments. Hopefully, real problems of the people can be tackled.