By DJ Mathal
With each passing day, the crisis of wheat and wheat flour is deepening in all parts of Gilgit-Baltistan. But more than the crisis, the troubling factor is that the department of food and the officials concerned of the government seemed unmoved from the consequences of the acute shortage of the basic commodity.
This is not the first time that the area is confronted with the crisis of wheat rather it has now become a routine phenomenon with the government making no plan to resolve the issue on a permanent basis.
With no assurance coming from the government and the situation getting worsened, people in different parts of Gilgit-Baltistan, including Skardu and Chilas have already taken to the streets and held protest demonstration. The protesters chanted slogans against the government and demanded that the supply of the basic commodity should be restored and the officials and contractors responsible for the shortage should be taken to task.
It may be noted that the wheat crisis has not occurred all of a sudden rather for many weeks there have been reports about the low arrival of the supply and the region running out of the stock. But the government criminally ignored the warnings forcing the consumers to launch a protest move. Even then, there seem no urgent steps from the government side. The dark side of the matter is that the federal government has been involved in the cat and mouse game and acting as if it is giving the subsidized wheat to Gilgit-Baltistan as a privilege, not the right of the people of the disputed territory. As a result, the region sees wheat crisis day in and day out.
The main problem is that about 1.5 million bags of wheat is supplied to Gilgit-Baltistan per annum. For the two million people of the region the quantity seems enough but the main issue is that this much wheat of the quota never reaches the consumers fully and is embezzled before it lands in Gilgit-Baltistan. There are reports that about 500,000 bags of the subsidized wheat disappear on the road to Gilgit-Baltistan while most of the commodity also land at the flour mills of prime minister’s son-in-law. All the big-shots and influential people backed by their patrons in government lay their hands on such once in a blue moon opportunities. Imagine when a flour miller gets wheat at the rate of Rs11 per kg against the market rate of over 33 rupees, how much they would be pocketing by the sale of the flour at the open market. There would be no one to take action or even speak against such embezzlement and robbery on the rights of the people of Giglit-Baltistan.
After coming to power two years ago, Birjees Tahir, the federal minister and now governor of Giglit-Baltistan, claimed that after the coming into power of the PML-N over three billion rupees corruption in the transportation and sale of the subsidized wheat to Giglit-Baltistan was stopped. The claim was clear that how much corruption as committed in the wheat dealing in the region. It is clear that the subsidy on wheat is giving more profits to the corrupt officials and their agents than the poor people of Giglit-Baltistan for whom it is specified. It is not only the food department of Giglit-Baltistan rather all the big fish from the ministry of Kashmir affairs to PASCO and the government ministers are involved in the embezzlement of the subsidized wheat.
The other side of the coin is that people of the region are running from pillar to post in search of a bag of wheat while the proceeds from the sale of the subsidized wheat are also disappearing. The government of Giglit-Baltistan is supposed to pay the price of the commodity from the sale of the wheat to PASCO. But it is defaulting on the payments threatening the supply of the commodity to the region. But, unfortunately, the Giglit-Baltistan government is also silent on the issue and should come out clean and clarify its position why it has not paid the areas so far and where the money has been going for so many years.
And it is the responsibility of the governor to summon the officials concerned and ask them about the wheat crisis. It is also important to note that the same governor had claimed that the PML-N government eliminated the corruption in the transportation and sale of the subsidized what two years ago. Now the governor should keep his words and make it sure that the wheat issue is resolved once for all. Other than that, it is futile to appeal to the chief minister or the minister for food because they have no powers to exercise and expose the looters of the wheat at the cost of the masses.