ISLAMABAD               -         The oppositions on Monday protested in the Senate over PTI-led government’s “lacklustre and poor response”, blaming it for the recent flour crisis and the rising prices of essential commodities and termed the remarks of a federal minister on the issue tantamount to making mockery of the poor.

The opposition parties, including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) staged a token walkout from the house on private members’ day after the treasury benches informed the house that Federal Minister for National Food Security Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar could not show up in the house and would brief it today (Tuesday).

The lawmakers also criticised the policy of the government to export wheat, during current fiscal year, without making exact estimates about the demand and supply of the crop what they said that it had no estimates in hand that the country itself needed more wheat this year.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani referred the matter to the Senate Standing Committee on National Food Security with the ruling that the committee should come up with a detailed report in the house. He also sought reports from the all provincial secretaries on the flour crisis and directed the food minister to brief the house today.

The remarks of Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad came under condemnation first from the Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer Senator Sirajul Haq who said that the minister with his public statement made a mockery of the poor. “Are these people are cruel,” he added. Siraj regretted that Pakistan was an agriculture country and the eighth-largest wheat producing country in the world and added: “Despite this, the people are desperate for roti [bread].”

The minister in a statement had said that the recent shortage of wheat and flour in the country and the reason of exorbitant prices of the staple food were because people eat more breads (rotis) during two months of winter season—November and December.

PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi, taking part in the debate, also showed his surprise that Pakistan despite being an agriculture country and self-sufficient in wheat production was facing flour crisis. He said that leathery of the government on the issue was clear and a blame game among the provinces and the centre was underway on the issue. “Provinces are saying that they did not get their required quota of wheat, while the federal government says the otherwise.” He also brought attention of the house towards rising gas and electricity prices.

The PML-N lawmaker demanded from the government to “make public the names of those people who benefited from this crisis and made billions of rupees in black money.”

JI Senator Mushtaq Ahmed pointed out that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and its tribal areas were facing severe flour shortage and also demanded that those responsible for the crisis should be brought to book. He alleged that “mafias like sugar mafia, steel mafia and flour mafia were ruling the country.”

PML-N Senator Pervaiz Rasheed said that Pakistan, last year, had produces 400,000 metric tonnes wheat in excess than its requirement but the government permitted to export 600,000 metric tonnes causing shortage of staple food in the country. H alleged that billions of rupees went into the pockets of private persons close to this government through this export permission in excess.

He said that the federal government’s stance-provinces did not inform them in time about the requirement-did not hold ground as two major provinces were being ruled by the PTI itself. “PTI is more focused to victimise the political opponents,” he said, adding that it was least concerned about the rising prices of utilities, including flour and sugar. He, without naming indirectly, referred to a close aide to PM Imran Khan behind the wheat crisis.

Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party Senator Usman Kakar said that the main culprit was the anti-people government of the PTI. “They have made life difficult,” he said and lamented that the prices of all essential commodities had increased by around 13 per cent to 15 per cent on average. He said that some items were being sold out up to 200 per cent higher than the previous prices.

Referring to the remarks of Railways Minister, Kakar said: “And then you make fun of the people.”

PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz admitted that the crisis persisted but added that it would be over in next few days. He said that the shortage was due to strike call given by transporters, suspension of some roads links due to bad weather and some wrong figures about the stock that were shared with the government. He said that this was not the first time that the country was facing flour crisis as this happened in the past for many months.

Chairman Senate Standing Committee on National Food Security Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah wondered that how country was facing wheat shortage when it had produces the staple food surplus. He said that the government ascertain clearly the reasons of this crisis.

Later the opposition staged a protest walkout after Leader of the Opposition Raja Zafarul Haq said that the government was taking the issue in a “non-serious manner.”

Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati in his response said that the food minister would inform the house on the basis of figures today how this crisis originated.