ISLAMABAD - The speculations regarding possible imposition of ban on inter-provincial trade have finally come true as the Punjab government has banned the flour trade from Punjab to NWFP, despite repeated denials of its senior officials in this regard during the last couple of weeks. According to a notification issued by Punjab Food Department, the trade of flour from Punjab to NWFP has been prohibited in the wake of reports of flour smuggling and sale of the same commodity at inflated rates across the border. The news regarding imposition of a possible ban on inter-provincial flour trade came to media when the provincial government ordered strict vigil at the Punjab check-posts bordering NWFP a couple of weeks ago. Senior ministers of Punjab government had then ruled out any possibility of the implementation of the said ban. In addition, the reports of massive corruption at five provincial check-posts including Jharikas, Baarian, Farooqia Hattar Road, Ghoragali and Khanpur, also appeared on the surface. The food officials appointed at the these check-posts were accused of minting money by extorting bribes from traders in heavy amounts, in connivance with concerned police officials. Some senior food officials of Punjab Food Department, Rawalpindi, requesting anonymity confirmed that government of Punjab had banned the transportation of flour between the provinces. The officials argued that the decision had been taken to eliminate illegal trade of flour in the wake of flour smuggling from Pakistan to Afghanistan. A large quantity of our flour is smuggled to Afghanistan every year. In order to control this practice, such steps like imposing ban are necessary, an official told this scribe. However, contradicting the justifications of food officials, sources in the same department mentioned that flour was being sold at much cheaper rates in Central Asian states neighbouring Afghanistan including Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. According to sources, There is a difference of around Rs 250 per 40 kilograms between flour rates in Pakistan and Central Asian states and the latter are selling the commodity at much cheaper rates than the former. Hows it possible that Afghanistan needs our flour when its neighbouring states are offering the same commodity at cheaper rates? Last year, flour was smuggled to Afghanistan due to the reason that price of wheat in Pakistan was much cheaper as compared to Central Asian states, which resulted in the reduction of flour prices in Punjab from where the eatable item was being smuggled to Afghanistan via NWFP. The official rate of wheat remained at Rs 540 and it was sold from Rs 550 to Rs 560 in open market in 2008. This year, the official price of wheat was fixed at Rs 975 and the flour is being sold at Rs 1,050 to Rs 1,075 in open market. Ironically, the ban is imposed on the trade of flour but the trade and transportation of wheat from Punjab to NWFP is allowed. What purpose does it serve to ban the flour trade when wheat is freely being traded between both the provinces? sources asked in astonishment. It is pertinent to mention here that some MNAs and MPAs of the ruling party in Punjab are associated with flour business at high-level. The imposition of ban serves their interests, as the commodity will be sold in NWFP in black market during the ban. On the other hand, huge profits are made and hefty bribes are received in the name of issuance of permits and licences for flour trade from Punjab to NWFP and blue-eyed people are accommodated, as it happened last year when the inter-provincial flour trade was banned and the aforementioned item kept on being sold in NWFP at inflated rates. The trade unions have time and again condemned the said step of Punjab government and demanded of the Punjab Chief Minister to reverse this decision.