Wheat procurement marred by charges of corruption
HYDERABAD, May 11: Wheat procurement by the provincial government has almost concluded amid complaints about large-scale corruption and irregularities in distribution of gunny sacks and purchase of the crop.
Since most growers failed to get the sacks they were compelled to sell wheat to traders and middlemen at less than the government-fixed price.
The government decided to buy 1.3 million tons this year because of inadequate storage facilities although Sindh was expected to produce 3.5 to four million tons.
Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB), a major representative body of farmers, had urged the government to raise its procurement target to 1.5 million tons.
The government appears to have no plans to upgrade storage facilities. The food department can store only around 642,000 tons. Therefore, wheat is either stored in godowns or kept in piles on elevated platforms or in flour mills, which often gets damaged during rains.
According to growers, the procurement started a fortnight late, in mid April, and most growers failed to get gunny sacks to bring their produce to the centres. As a result, they were forced to sell the crop to middlemen, incurring a loss of around Rs120 to Rs150 per 40kg.
“The procurement centres should have been opened in March in lower Sindh because of early harvest in the region,” said Mehmood Nawaz Shah, SAB general secretary.
Had the government started buying wheat in time it would not have to impose section 144 Cr.PC to ban movement of wheat.
“There cannot be an ideal situation but an effort could have been made to improve the system,” he said.
This year again, corrupt elements allowed the middlemen and traders to buy the farmers’ hard earned harvest cheaply at the rate of Rs900 to Rs930 per 40kg, Rs150-120 lower than the government support price of Rs1050 per 40kg.
The traders claimed they had obtained the gunny bags after paying a bribe of Rs150 for a bag. Since growers cannot store their crop they had to sell wheat to middlemen.
Growers have to submit a form at the centres for bags. They get the forms from the revenue department after paying bribe and submitting security deposit for the wheat to be supplied. The deposit is refunded at the time of purchase.
There is immense corruption in distribution of bags. “We have reports that 100,000 bags have been given to one individual in Dadu,” alleges Mehmood Shah.
The government buys wheat to keep its price stable in. But food officials, big landholders, parliamentarians and market dealers in every district fill their own pockets at the expense of small growers.
After buying the wheat cheaply the dealers sell it to procurement centres at a big margin in collusion with officials who get their share.
Bags meant for distribution in Badin and Sanghar districts were exhausted in a few days. Even a surveillance team formed by Food Minister Mir Nadir Magsi has pointed out irregularities in the distribution of bags.
The team’s head Shahnawaz Magsi said he had found many sacks in private godowns in Mirpurkhas and Sanghar. But the team itself has been accused of being involved in corruption in wheat procurement and allotment of wheat quotas to chakki and mill-owners.
SAB president Abdul Majeed Nizamani has called for announcing the list of farmers who received bags in Badin and other districts. “Only 25 per cent genuine growers have been given sacks,” he said.
Ten bags of 100kg each make a ton. If a grower incurs a loss of Rs150 per 40kg, the extent of his loss would be too large for him, he said.
Growers’ complaints fall on deaf ears. Officials of the food department say they cannot take any action against any irregularity without a written compliant submitted by a grower.
When a grower sends a complaint to the deputy director concerned of the department, he is asked to wait for a response which never comes. As a result, growers often avoid making complaints and sell the crop cheaply.
Provincial food secretary Naseer Jamali admitted that the process of wheat procurement was not quite transparent and repeated the refrain “the department needs written complaints to be able to take action against delinquent employees”.