ISLAMABAD - A day after protest of the opposition in the Senate over wheat flour crisis in the country, the government on Tuesday informed the house that the “artificial” crisis of flour would be over soon as the country has enough wheat reserves and there was only disturbance in supply chain of food staple.

Federal Minister for National Food Security Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar told the house that the country has stocks of wheat in excess till the new wheat crop arrives in the market. “I can say with responsibility that there is no crisis of wheat in the country right now,” he said. He said that the crisis would be over in the next few days as the supply of wheat to two provinces— Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa— has been improved.

“The country has 4 million tons of wheat in public sector reserves and we will have even 0.85 million tons of stock at the end when the new crop arrives in the market. Punjab had stored 4.8 million tons and Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) 2 million tons of wheat in public sector last year. While Sindh had informed the centre about estimated reserves of 8 million tons of wheat,” he continued, adding that Sindh provincial food department did not buy a single grain of wheat last year and it turned out later that it has 0.7 million tons of food staple in stock instead of 0.8 million tons.

Bakhtiar further informed the house that the federal government had allocated 0.4 million tons of wheat to Sindh and 0.45 million tons to KP from the reserves of Passco and both were lifting wheat as per schedule but the supply chain disturbed due to strike of goods’ transporters, especially in Sindh. Now supplies of wheat to Sindh and KP have resumed as usual causing decrease in the per kg price of wheat flour.

Furthermore, the minister said that Punjab government had suspicions that the wheat stock, purchased on subsided rates by its food departments, was being smuggled to Afghanistan through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. When it enhanced its checks to prevent smuggling, supply system of wheat for KP also disturbed. “Now per kg price of flour in KP had decreased from Rs58 to Rs52.

Responding to the criticism of opposition parties, the minister said that the government had a carryover stock of 3.7 million tons last year while it was estimated that wheat production for the this year would be 26 million tons. “But to erratic weather in March and April last year, the production decreased to 1.2 million tons only in Punjab and the country got 0.7 million tons of wheat than the less than the target.”

The minister cleared that that the government had set 8 million tons target of wheat procurement to avoid flour crisis next year.

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq said: “We can say that either the government is inefficient or inexperienced to deal with the crisis.” He said that the matter should be referred to the house committee to know whether such mechanism was in place to avert such crisis.

The Parliamentary Leader of Pakistan People’s party (PPP) in the Senate Sherry Rehman said that the matter should be referred to the committee with a deadline and with the assurance that the minster should make sure his presence in it. She alleged that 40,000 metric tons had been smuggled to Afghanistan and now the wheat was being sold out in black market.