Traders and transporters observed a complete shutter-down and wheel-jam strike in Chitral Bazaar and blocked the Peshawar highway against the interim government for withdrawing subsidy on wheat price and making a 100% hike in the price of a 100-kg wheat bag pushing it from Rs6,000 to Rs12,000.
CHITRAL: A massive public meeting, protest march, and strike was organized here on Friday against the exorbitant increase in wheat price and supply of substandard and unhygienic flour to the people of Chitral.
The call for protest and strike was given by all political parties, traders, transporters, and civil society bodies.
The protesters assembled at Ataleeq Chowk (Square) followed by a march in the Bazaar featuring fiery speeches, chanting slogans, and displaying placards inscribed with demands.
Representatives of all political and religious parties, civil society, organisations of traders, transporters, drivers, and many people participated in the rally and march.
The traders also observed a complete shutter down strike in Chitral Bazaar and blocked Peshawar highway.
Addressing the protesters, the speakers criticized the discriminatory policies of the provincial government against the people of Chitral.
They criticized the former PTI provincial government for allowing non-locals to open flour mills and closing all the watermills across the district.
The mills, they alleged, are providing substandard and unhygienic flour to the people not suitable for human consumption.
They also castigated the interim government for withdrawing subsidy on wheat price and making a 100 percent increase in it. Subsequently, the price of a 100-kg wheat bag has jumped from Rs6,000 to Rs12,000, while the same is available for only Rs4,000 in the neighbouring districts of Gilgit-Baltistan.
They also displayed banners inscribed with slogans against the flour mills and demanded their closure and supply of the commodity to the people from the sale points under the old system.
The speakers argued that the quality and nutritious value of the flour obtained in the traditional process of grinding in watermills remain intact while the mechanical mills separate white flour from bran and sell very poor quality to the public.
According to the government policy, the mills operating in Chitral will sell 70% of the flour to the public at a subsidized rate and 30% of the flour at their own discretion.
They said that the subsidized flour sold to the public is not even edible and often the mill owners smuggle the flour to other districts.
Through a unanimous resolution, the gathering demanded withdrawal of the decision of the increase in the price of wheat and its provision at Rs4,000 at which it is supplied to Gilgit-Baltistan because the peoples of Chitral and G-B are facing the same problems.
Owners of flour mills are buying the wheat on Chitral’s quota and selling the flour ground from it to the local people at double rates and smuggle to other districts.
Through another resolution, they called for an end to harassment of people, closure of private flour mills in Chitral, and supply of wheat to the people from the civil supply godown.
They warned to resort to shutter-down and wheel-jam strike if their demands were not fulfilled and all the responsibilities for any law-and-order situation will squarely fall on the government.
They also demanded an inquiry into the sudden disappearance of one month’s wheat stock from the godown after the notification to stop the supply of wheat to the godown and give it to private flour mills.
On visiting the District Food Controller office to get his official response, Rehmat Wali Khan said that the supply of wheat to the flour mills had been stopped for nine days on the demand of the people. Later, this process was resumed at the direction of the provincial government, he said.
However, 200 kgs of wheat are given to the people daily from the government godown.
Similarly, 180 kgs of wheat are sold daily to the people from the godown of Drosh in addition to the wheat provided to the flour mills.
He said that the official rate of the quota for flour mills is fixed, and flour is supplied to the people at the same rate.
When our correspondent contacted the mill owners and tried to have their response, they did not answer the phone call.
The speakers criticized the provincial and national assembly members from Chitral for their apathy and silence on this issue. They visit door to door at the time of elections but disappear in this hour of trouble, the speakers said.