Punjab govt, flour millers lock horns amid strike call

LAHORE: The Punjab government and flour millers have locked horns over the wheat release policy and other issues, with the food department accusing millers of creating an issue out of nothing while the millers sticking to their plan to go on strike.

The government maintains that the release policy is more of a routine matter and the millers are only creating an issue that they were not taken on board. “The food department was not preparing a release policy for the first time. It has been doing it for decades. Is it necessary to waste weeks on talks with millers when the market is deteriorating on a daily basis?” a food department official questioned.

On the other hand, flour millers have threatened to go on strike next week unless the provincial government accepted their demands, including equal quota for all millers, increasing grinding and transportation charges and ending forced supply of flour to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in red bags.

Ever since wheat release started in late September, the Punjab Food Department and flour millers seem to be in a difficult situation.

“Under the official quota per body/grinding machine fluctuates from 12 bags in South Punjab to 46 bags in Lahore. This is making operations commercially unviable. The association has been arguing with the department to increase the quota to at least 18 bags to make grinding commercially viable,” Mr Raza said.

“Since when did commercial viability of mills become the department’s obligation,” wondered the Food Department’s officials.

“The department has to ensure flour supply to the people, not the millers. If someone has put up mills, say in the remotest region of Rajanpur, is it departmental duty to ensure profits for it. Certainly not!” the food department official maintained.

Meanwhile, Mr Raza pointed out other bigger issues. “For almost eight years, the government has not increased grinding charges which are stuck at Rs100 per 20kg bag,” the PFMA office bearer said.

The Punjab Food Depa­rtment sprang another surprise this season when it asked the millers to supply flour to KP in red bags. “The department can certainly decide about flour supplies in Punjab, but why should it interfere in supplies to KP?” he said.

Meanwhile, PFMA patr­on-in-chief Mian Riaz, who presided over the fourth emergency meeting of the millers, said that daily harassment of flour millers on different issues was yet another problem which must end.

“The government is asking millers to lift 25 per cent of quota from other districts which now costs a fortune. All these troubles need to be removed. Flour millers are putting the government on a three-day notice after which the millers would stop lifting official wheat and go on strike. A decision for the strike would be taken on Tuesday,” Mr Riaz said.