Inter-provincial wheat ban: Balochistan flour mills shut down
By Azizullah Khan
QUETTA: Flour mills in Balochistan closed for an indefinite period on Tuesday in protest against the inter-provincial wheat transportation ban imposed by the Punjab government.
Mill owners protested in Quetta and demanded the release of wheat, saying they were losing business and people were being forced to buy expensive flour provided by the Punjab. They also said the Punjab was supporting its mill owners and were destroying the business of mill owners in other provinces.
All 40 mills in Balochistan were closed, affecting about 10,000 workers, said mill owner Naimatullah. He said, “We have two genuine demands ie the Punjab must supply wheat to Balochistan or the government allow the province (Balochistan) to import wheat from India or any other country.” He said mill owners were facing a tough time due to the Punjab government’s decision. Presently, a 100 kg wheat bag was being sold at Rs 1,400 would cost Rs 900 if imported from India, he added.
Naimatullah also said the Balochistan government had been contacted time and again but the mill owners’ pleas had feel on deaf ears. Neither the Balochistan government had wheat in its godowns nor was the Punjab government supplying wheat, he said. “We have no other options except to close our mills and protest,” mill owner Mumtaz said. He said Balochistan was not producing wheat and that was why mill owners in the provinces depended on the Punjab and Sindh provinces for the commodity. The Punjab had refused to supply wheat and the Sindh government had imposed Section 144 on the supply of wheat to other provinces, he added.
Senior Balochistan minister Maulana Abdul Wasey said the Punjab had started discriminating against provinces and was inciting them against each other. He said the Punjab only had wheat whereas the other three provinces had more commodities to damage the business industry of the Punjab. Balochistan would consider stopping gas to the Punjab and Sindh and the NWFP would be contacted to formulate a collective policy in this regard, he added. If the Punjab could stop wheat, Balochistan could stop gas to the Punjab if the wheat supply was not restored, he said.
An NWFP minister had already warned the Punjab that the province would cut its power supply. Similarly, Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali had also directed the Punjab government to lift the ban, but his orders had so far been ignored.
Observers in Balochistan believed that the Punjab had banned the inter-provincial supply of wheat to force the three provinces agree over a National Finance Commission formula that suited it (Punjab).