ISLAMABAD - Contrary to government claims of providing essential food items at a subsidized rate during the whole month of Ramazan, most of the utility stores of the country have run dry of the essential commodities on the first day of Ramazan despite the hopes that supply would improve after the commencement of the holy month.

The government announced a mega Rs1.73 billion subsidy under Ramazan Relief Package for less fortunate this Monday. But the Ramazan specific items have been disappeared from the shelves.

Most of the stores have limited variety of cooking oil, while many have shortage of pulses and baisan and grams, the most essential items used in the preparation of Iftar.

In Islamabad, some mega stores of Aabpara, Tramri and Karachi Company have complete range of items, while most of the stores of other part of the capital were short of major items.

It is mismanagement inside the store management, said Alvi, an employee. He said the managers in connivance with area managers sell subsidized items in market and earn millions.

The Ramazan Package is in fact a treat to the underpaid employees of the Utility Stores, said Ghulam Ababs another employee.

Every year, the government announced billions of rupees subsidy on food items at Utility Stores but every year, after first week of the holy months, the subsidized items vanish from the shelves.

The items which Utility Store management sells in open market include oil, pulses, and gram flour.

Since last two years, in order to stop the sale of Utility items in open market the subsidy was spread over more items then only gram flour, pulses and cooking oil or ghee.

This year daal mash is being sold at Rs105 per kg, daal masoor Rs80 per kg, gram flour Rs. 120 per kg, while daal chana is being sold at Rs95 per kg. Cooking oil dalda 5 kg is sold for Rs875. In open market the above mentioned items are up to Rs 60 costlier.

Created in 1971, with only 20 retail outlets of the Staff Welfare Organisation, the Utility Store Corporation is running 5,327 Utility Stores across the country.

The second largest, state-owned loss-making entity after Pakistan Steel Mills, the corporation is incurring per day loss of around Rs14 million.

Around 4,470 stores out of 5,327 are incurring losses. According to insiders, in addition to wrong policies, too much political interference, theft is the major reason behind the losses of the corporation.

In its five years, Pakistan Muslim League N despite many attempts - failed to computerized the stores to eliminate theft.