LAHORE      -          As the clouds of change loom large on the political horizon, the PTI’s landed gentry in Punjab Assembly have resented their government’s decision to allow import of wheat even though sufficient food reserves are available at home.

The government has announced to import 0.3 million tons of expensive wheat from Ukraine to overcome the flour crisis. The decision comes notwithstanding the availability of 4.2 million tons of wheat stocks which are enough to meet two months of domestic consumption.

While the first shipment of imported wheat is expected to arrive by February 15, fresh wheat crop from Sindh will start reaching the local market by March 15.By allowing duty-free wheat import to private party, the government has approved to waive Rs 7.7 billion in taxes so as to reduce the end-consumer price.

“What makes the government to allow import of wheat from other countries at higher rates; whereas it is not willing to give the same rate to its own farmers”, Mian Shafi Muhammad, a PTI member from Rahimyar Khan told this paper.

Quoting international rates of wheat, Mian Shafi said that imported wheat from Ukraine will cost the importers Rs 1800 per 40 kg after addition of the shipment charges. On the other hand, he added, the government procures the same commodity from its own farmers at Rs 1,350 per 40 kg. “In India, the official rate for wheat is Rs 2,000 per 40 kg while US farmers get Rs 1,742 for the same quantity”, he lamented.

“Importing wheat at this time when wheat crop in Sindh would be ready for harvesting by mid March and mid April in Punjab is hard to fathom”, another lawmaker from south Punjab told this scribe. He wished not to be named. He said it was sheer injustice towards the local farmers. “With the arrival of imported wheat in the market, the domestic wheat price will crash”, he maintained while attributing the current flour crisis to government’s failure to rein in the flour mills mafia.

“Government procured wheat from farmers at Rs 1,300 per 40 kg while flour is supplied at Rs 2,400 per 40 kg to the consumers in cities. In this case, the farmers and the end consumers in cities are the main victims”, he moaned.

A lawmaker from south who grows cotton at his lands was also resentful of the government policies. “Government allowed duty-free import of cotton from India via Oman at a higher price while the local farmers got 20 per cent less than the international rate”, he revealed.

Talking about government’s apathy towards sugar cane growers, a Punjab Assembly member said sugar mills were exploiting the famers in a big way. “Previously, when the sugar sold at Rs 35 per kg, the sugar cane rate was fixed at Rs 180 per 40 kg. Now, when the sugar is selling at Rs 70 per kg, the rate of sugar cane has been fixed at Rs 190 per 40 kg. Millers get sugar cane at lower rate and sell sugar at an exorbitant rate”, he grumbled.