Probe launched in Wheat crisis

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has formed a committee to investigate the wheat shortage that has gripped the country in recent days. According to the notification that surfaced in the media on Wednesday, the four-member committee will be headed by the Federal Investigation Agency DirectorGeneral, a representative of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the director-general of Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment and any other member selected by the FIA DG. The committee, which has been asked to furnish its report by February 6, will ascertain the causes of the shortage, “circumstances leading to the wheat/ flour related controversy” and assess the future stock that led to “allowing export of wheat… and subsequent imposition of ban on exports”. The committee will also assess the management of wheat stocks within the federal and provincial governments as well as coordination among provinces. The notification also tasks the committee to “identify and fix responsibility, if any, on any individual/ officer/ organisation, including any purported benefit to a private party.” Earlier on Monday, members of the Senate lambasted the government for the wheat shortage and condemned Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed’s remarks on the issue, which they said made “a mockery of the people of Pakistan”. Rashid, when asked to comment on the wheat crisis in a press conference, had said: “In November and December, people eat more bread than usual. It’s not a joke, a study backs my claims.” The opposition and the centre have continued to bicker over the ongoing wheat crisis in the country. While the PTI had laid the blame squarely on the Sindh government, citing untimely purchasing and a subsequent shortage in supply to the flour mills, the Sindh government had taken exception to being the target of “a dirty blame game” and in turn held the prime minister responsible. Meanwhile, the PPP and PML-N had alleged that despite a shortage in reserves of wheat, the commodity had been exported. Further, leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif had demanded an inquiry to determine who had authorised. the move. The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday issued notices to the federal and provincial authorities on a petition challenging a recent hike in prices of wheat flour. A bench of the LHC, headed by Justice Mamoon Rasheed Shaikh, was hearing the case. The court directed the official respondents to submit their comments on the petition that assailed a recent increase in prices of wheat flour. It directed the Punjab additional chief secretary and the food secretary to appear before it in person. The bench instructed the authorities to spell out how did the wheat crisis arise and who was behind it. Earlier, on Jan 20, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) had approved import of 300,000 tons of wheat to cater to wheat shortage in the country. The approval came at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Adviser on Finance Hafeez Sheikh in Islamabad. The Economic Coordination Committee was informed that the first shipment of wheat is likely to arrive in the country by 15th of next month. The ECC asked Punjab and PASSCO to release their stocks to overcome the shortage in the country. The wheat can be imported till March 31.