LAHORE - Flour crisis still persists in the Punjab province as the flour millers and the government are at loggerheads over the issue of flour price. The retail price of 20-kg flour bag has shot up to Rs 450 in the open market while the flour shortage is increasing with the passage of every single day. The government tightened its screws against the flour millers and hoarders by launching crackdown and armed raids at the mills to check profiteering and black-marketing in order to ensure sufficient flour supply to the general populace at fixed price. On the other hand, the millers say that they are unable to sell 20-kg flour bag at Rs 365, the price fixed by the government, when the price of wheat has shot up to Rs 760 per 40-kg in the open market particularly after an alarming increase in the prices of petroleum products and electricity. The Punjab Food Department believes that the millers have created fake shortage to press the provincial government to enhance the price of flour, which the government could not afford at any cost. According to the sources, the millers and the Punjab Food Department officials on Monday failed to develop a consensus over the issue of flour price during their 2-hour long meeting. Deputy Director Food and Enforcement Officer Punjab were representing the Food Department in the meeting while the representatives of Flourmills Association Punjab were also present on this occasion. However, the flour mill owners demanded the government to immediately issue wheat quota from the available stock to the mills to overcome shortage and to control the flour prices in case the government did not allow any increase in the flour price but the Food Department is also keeping mum over this demand. The flour millers said that they had reduced the supply because they were unable to sell the flour at the existing rates as the wheat price jumped to Rs 760 per 40-kg from Rs 625 per 40-kg in the open market. They further revealed that the increase in wheat price has reduced the flour production all over the province. "We have reduced the floor supply to the markets because we don't have enough wheat to grind. The wheat price has reached Rs 760 per 40-kg from Rs 625 in the market. How can we sell 20-kg flour bag at Rs 365. We could not bear a loss of Rs 25 on each flour bag if the transportation cost is included," a flourmill owner said seeking anonymity. Sources in the Punjab government were of the view that the millers were demanding the government to allow them to increase the ex-mill price of 20-kg flour bag from Rs 365 to Rs 400 minimum. "The millers are creating fake shortage because they have a sufficient stock of wheat at their go-downs. They had purchased this wheat from the open market at Rs 620 to Rs 630 per 40-kg about three months before when the government concluded its wheat procurement drive," a high ranking official of the Food Department said, requesting his name not to be quoted. Meanwhile, the flour crisis has deepened in the City as the mill owners have reduced 50 per cent of the supply to the markets stating that they could not buy wheat at high prices from the open market. The flour millers said that the government must issue wheat quota from the available stock to control the flour price instead of waiting for the imported wheat. "We don't have enough flour bags at the shops for sale. The flour supply is limited but the demand is very high," Rao Mohammad Akram President Lahore Kiryana and General Merchants Association said. He further said that the wholesalers who were selling at least 3,000 flour bags in a week were receiving only 200 flour bags during a week at present. "A good number of shopkeepers are receiving very limited flour supply across the Punjab Capital. The supply is not enough to meet the demand," he added. Ironically, the officials of the City District Government are imposing fine on those shopkeepers who don't have flour bags at their shops, which is injustice, he said and added that the government must issue wheat quota to the mills to control the situation. "Let me tell you honestly, 20-kg flour bags have vanished from the market and if available are being sold at Rs 450," he said. When contacted Habib-ur-Rehman Leghari, Chairman All Pakistan Flourmills Association (Punjab) said that an urgent meeting of the Supreme Council and Executive Body of the association have been called on Tuesday (today) to discuss the flour situation, prices and to decide further plan of action. "We will decide our further plan of action after our meeting with the Secretary Food Punjab, to be held on Wednesday over the issue of wheat quota and flour prices," he added.