Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday urged Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — the provinces ruled by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its allies — to join Centre’s wheat scheme for flood-hit areas, asking them to rise above politics to provide seeds to affected farmers amid devastating floods.
Punjab Chief Minister Parvez Elahi, on the other hand, accused the federal government of freezing the wheat quota of the province and refusing to grant permission to the provincial government for the import of the grain.
Presiding over a meeting of the National Flood Response and Coordination Centre (NFRCC), the prime minister offered KP and Punjab to collaborate with the federal government under the scheme which will ensure funding for wheat seeds under a ‘50-50 formula’.
He mentioned that Sindh and Balochistan had already agreed whereas the KP and Punjab governments were refusing to cooperate and playing politics over the matter.
PM rules out wheat import by private sector to save dollars; CM Elahi seeks federal intervention
“I request you to accept the offer in view of the plight of the flood-hit farmers. And if you still reject it, then don’t twist the facts that Centre is not extending assistance to you,” he said in a meeting which was also joined remotely by chief secretaries of Punjab and KP.
The extraordinary situation in light of massive floods demanded unity at the national level, the prime minister said, adding that the devastation caused by floods would also impact the wheat yield in the coming year.
The premier said he would not allow the private sector to import wheat at any cost as this would put pressure on dwindling foreign exchange reserves.
“In view of the emergency situation, I will not allow the private sector to import wheat,” he said, adding, “We even negotiated with the lowest bidder and took discounts [for wheat].”
Dawn.com quoted the premier as saying the government cannot even afford to spend a dollar extra. “…I will not allow the private sector to make fat profits, and then use Pakistan’s foreign exchange and then sell it to the consumer. This will not happen, and this shall not happen,” he said.
In a letter to the prime minister, CM Elahi urged him to intervene for the approval of one million tonnes [MT] of wheat for Punjab as the “province’s 2.85MT wheat stocks are anticipated to deplete” by the end of February 2023.
In his letter, Mr Elahi stated that Punjab had procured 4.448MT wheat in this season and along with a carry forward stock of 0.780MT accumulated to a total wheat stock of 5.156MT that was available to cater to the needs of the people of Punjab for the entire period.
He stated that the Punjab government, with the full consent of federal government, started wheat release early on May 19 at a subsidised rate and now it required an additional quota to stock up its strategic reserves.
Mr Elahi said the provincial government had already requested the Ministry of National Food Security & Research (NFSR) to provide 1.0MT wheat through Passco. He added that the wheat shipment was expected to be received in October but “repetitive regret from the ministry, especially at this eleventh hour on Sept 29 raised concerns”. He requested the premier for approval of 1.0MT wheat in addition to the immediate provision of 0.3MT through Passco.
Sources familiar with the background of the issue told Dawn that the Punjab government had sought 500,000 tonnes from Passco out of its share of 3m tonnes. In July, Passco excused. It later said it could share half of its one million tonnes of imports, to which Punjab readily agreed. However, the proposal was refused later on, and the provincial government was told to contact the federation.
Separately, in a response to the prime minister, PML-Q leader Moonis Elahi responded to claims of wheat import through the private sector and said the Punjab government was asking the federal government to provide 1.0MT wheat to the province through Passco or Trading Corporation of Pakistan. “The Punjab government will also pay the cost of the required wheat,” he stated, adding that the prime minister should stop doing “gimmicks” on a serious issue.