ISLAMABAD    -   Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan on Saturday said Prime Minister Imran Khan had directed the federal and provincial governments to bring down prices of wheat, sugar, cooking oil, fruits and vegetables in order to provide relief to the masses.

Addressing a press conference here, she said the prime minister held a three-hour long meeting with chief ministers of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa(KP), chief secretaries, officials of ministries of food, agriculture, statistics, commerce and industry and cane commissioners on Friday, and asked them to adopt a comprehensive strategy so that prices of essential commodities could be reduced.

Firdous said price of wheat had increased in Sindh after the provincial government failed to procure the commodity and its stocks started depleting.

She accused Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto of holding a public meeting in Sindh at government expenses. “While on one hand, the PPP government in Sindh is using public resources for its gatherings and rallies, on the other its  incompetence and inefficiency led to hike in wheat prices,” she added.

“The prime minister took notice of the situation and issued instructions that Pakistan Agricultural Services and Storage Corporation (PASSCO) should release 0.1 million tonnes of wheat for the Sindh province so that price of the commodity could be reduced and people of the province could heave a sigh of relief,” she explained.

She said in a recent by-election in Larkana people had buried the slogan of “Bhutto zinda hay” and made an example of the economic terrorists.

The SAPM said the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) was instructed to come up with a comprehensive strategy and give recommendations in three days on the release of stock of wheat and cut in its prices, adding wheat would also be imported to ensure its availability in the market at cheaper rates.

Dr Firdous claimed for the first time last year the sugarcane farmers received payments as per support price of Rs180 per 40 kilogramme.

She told the media that the PM, during Friday’s meeting, had also expressed dismay at increase in the price of sugar, and asked the provincial governments besides Ministry of Industry to keep the prices stable and take action against profiteers and hoarders.

“The chief ministers were asked to set up markets in order to do away with middlemen so that farmers could benefit and consumers could also get relief from hike in prices of vegetables, fruits and perishable items,” she informed.

She further said the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) was asked to rationalize regulatory duty on the import of cooking oil.

She said after the import of tomatoes and onions from India stopped, their prices had increased, but now the situation would improve following the arrival of these vegetables in the market from Sindh.

She told that Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) would establish a land bank and evolve a business plan to build schools, colleges, universities, parks and hospitals to serve the people and to also generate revenue.

“The prime minister directed the Punjab government to stop pursuing cases in courts in order to avoid undue litigation pertaining to the agricultural, commercial lands and properties of ETPB,” Firdous said, and added, “Projects of public interest will be launched on the lands encroached upon by shrines and the amount collected by beneficiaries in charity would be used for building universities, shelter homes and to provide facilities to devotees and population living in the shrines’ vicinity.”

She denied that the prime minister had held a meeting with ulemas to take them on board on the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl’s (JUI-F) Azadi March.

The PM, she clarified, instead had asked the Islamic Ideology Council that it should guide the government on implementing the concept of state of Medina and tax reforms according to Quran and Sunnah.

Ulema appreciated the prime minister’s address to the United Nations General Assembly and supported his efforts to promote the narrative of Kashmiris and his decision to observe black day against India on October 27 when Indian forces entered Kashmir.

She said details of prime minister’s meeting with religious scholars were published out of context in some sections of media.

Talking about the issue of Ansarul Islam – a wing of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, she informed a summary had been sent to the cabinet about the organisation and the decision would be taken as per provisions of the constitution.

She said that the right to protest could not be taken away from anybody as it was the basic human, constitutional and legal right.

Dr Firdous observed that when doctors, teachers and others protested they did not need private militias. “People part of such militias, carrying sticks in their hands, spread chaos and disorder,” she commented.

She said that under the National Action Plan (NAP), state had the right to protect rights of its citizens and nobody was allowed to create state within a state and legal action would be taken if an individual or party violated law of the land.

“The provincial governments are formulating a strategy to deal with jathas (bands) bent upon creating chaos in the federal capital in the guise of Azadi March, she said, and added the federal government would assist the provincial governments in this regard.

“The state institutions are in agreement that nobody will be allowed to hold citizens hostage. Under article 256 of the constitution, the state had the responsibility to protect life and property of citizens,” SAPM reminded.

The special assistant said state and the government were working, parliament was functional and the army was the guarantor of security and defence of the country.