The Pakistan Flour Mills Association members in Punjab have gone on strike for an indefinite period, triggering fears of an impending flour shortage in the market.
Talking to the media, Tahir Hanif Malik, the Punjab chairman of the millers’ association, said that they have gone on strike in protest against the “highhanded behaviour” of Punjab authorities.
The millers are demanding an end to physical visits by officials of the Punjab Food Department and the Revenue department. The data regarding their production is available on the government portal, they say. They have also sought an end to relaxation on the movement of flour trucks.
Arif Dareshak, an office-holder in the association, said that mills were being raided and their owners harassed.
At least one miller from Faisalabad was arrested and the mill was sealed. In this regard, Faisalabad Flour Mills Association staged a protest by closing the mills and chanted slogans against the district administration
Malik, the Punjab chairman, said that Anjum Ashfaq, the mill owner, has since been bailed. He said the miller was arrested on spurious charges and his mill was sealed.
“1,035 mills in Punjab have stopped operations due to the strike,” said Dareshak. “If the issues are not resolved, there may be a shortage of flour in the next two days,” he warned.
The millers say the strike will continue until the Punjab chief minister and chief secretary agree to their demands in person.
Earlier, chairman of Faisalabad Flour Mills Association Chaudhry Shafiq Anjum along with other officials held a press conference, saying that the bureaucracy was “unjustifiably harassing our esteemed mill owners and we are being harassed by various tactics.”
Despite the high prices, he said, “We are still selling flour at the old rates. The owners of flour mills are being detained illegally; therefore, the Punjab chief minister must take notice and immediately stop the illegal activities of the bureaucracy.”
The government is trying to provide cheap flour, but the bureaucracy was creating problems, he maintained. If the authorities do not take notice, there will be a strike all over Pakistan, he warned.
“Flour mills have been producing flour and supplying it all over the country in the past and will continue to do so in the future. If a person smuggles flour to other countries or provinces, it is not the fault of the flour mills,” he asserted. “If our demands are not met by this evening, flour mills across the country will be closed. If the authorities do not listen, the mill owners will also be made part of the protest.”
With the closure of flour mills in Faisalabad, cheap flour disappeared from the market. People kept visiting various shops to get flour, raising fears of a flour crisis in all four districts of the division.
Interestingly, another group of millers known as the United Group of Flour Mills Association has distanced themselves from the strike. However, the number of millers in this faction is less than two dozen.
Meanwhile, the food department has decided to distribute 16,700 metric tonnes of wheat to millers.