Islamabad - A powerful mafia has deprived the nation of a big chunk of Rs 1.75 billion Ramadan Relief Package, aimed at providing Ramadan specific items to masses at subsidised rates.

Under the package, special discounted rates have been announced for 22 essential items to be sold at Utility Stores (US) across the country.

The price of one kg sugar has been fixed at Rs60, Utility Ghee at 112 per litre, Oil at 120 per liter, Daal Chana at Rs120 per kg, White Chaana at Rs115 per kg, Basin at Rs120 per kg, while branded basin’s price is fixed at Rs140 kg. Similarly, Black Gram or kalaa chana is being offered at a subsidised rate of Rs110 per kg.

But just after few days into Ramadan, most of the items started disappearing from the shelves of the stores. By the second week, most of the items announced were not available.

“All the commodities were available at the store when I shopped one day before Ramadan, but gradually these started disappearing and after two weeks, all these subsidised items were not available at most of the stores,” said Rana Ismail, a resident of Sector G-6.

He said Basin and White Gram are two items which are used most in Iftaari and Sehri, but both these items are not available at government stores.

It has been learnt that other items, with large price differences, are also not available at different stores.

The market price of white grams is between Rs160- 200 per kg, whereas basin is sold up to Rs180 per kg.

“We are not receiving supplies of many items,” said a storekeeper, and added, “The supplies of many eatables discontinued just after the first week of Ramadan.”

Insiders claim the management sold the items in open market due to large price differences.

“The rate of White Gram at Utility Stories is Rs115, whereas it is available in the market at up to Rs200; if one sells it even at Rs150, he is making profit of Rs35 per kg,” an insider told this scribe.

He alleged the corruption took place at a higher level, and the vans were sold after they came out of the head office.

When tried, Minister for Industries Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi was not available to comment.

It has also been learnt that he has developed some serious differences with the people in Raiwind Palace over appointments on key posts, falling under the Ministry of Industries.

It has come to the notice that Jatoi has not been coming to his office for the last many days.

USC Managing Director Gulzar Hussain Shah and spokesman Wajid Ali Khan were also busy. The MD was in Lahore to participate in some important meeting, while the spokesman said he could only comment on Monday during office hours.

Another senior official however denied that the management had sold the items in market. “It is true that many items, including White Gram and Basin, are not available at stores, but it is due to high demand,” he reasoned.

When asked the package was for Ramadan only; was it mismanagement or flaw in planning that the eatables became short just after few days into Ramadan, he said it was early to reach at any conclusion.

“We have a manual book keeping system, the shortage could be due to flaw in planning or some lower staff might have sold the items but things will be clear after books are rechecked,” he said.

Corruption in government-owned chain stores, set up to provide basic commodities to the general public at competitive rates, is not a new phenomenon.

At a recent meeting of a Standing Committee on Industries, massive corruption of around Rs710 million reported from different outlets of the Utility Stores Corporation during the last three years was discussed.

According to USC management, 17 employees of utility outlets in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 37 in Punjab, 58 in Sindh and 29 in Balochistan were dismissed from their jobs for their involvement in corruption.

Many believe that due to old and manual system of book keeping most of the corruption in the department never comes to surface.

Every year, the government announces billions of subsidies on Utility Stores items during the fasting month of Ramadan.

But every year, it is hard to find essential items at Utility Stores after the first week of holy month. Many believe that without devising a proper mechanism, the subsidy is a waste of national exchequer.