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PM wants food prices reined in within 15 days

ISLAMABAD: Taking notice of widespread criticism of the government over unprecedented inflation in the country, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday directed the members of his economic team to take immediate steps to bring down the prices of basic food commodities — especially wheat, wheat flour, sugar, rice and pulses — within a fortnight, sources said.

The directives were issued by the prime minister while presiding over a meeting at his Banigala residence which was attended by Adviser to the PM on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, federal Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar, federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Syed Ali Haider Zaidi, Special Assistant to the PM (SAPM) on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection Dr Sania Nishtar, SAPM on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Development Zulfi Bukhari, senior Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leaders Jahangir Tareen and Shahbaz Gill, besides the chairman of the Utility Stores Corporation.

One of the participants of the meeting quoted the prime minister as stating that if a government could not provide relief and basic commodities to the masses, it had no right to stay in power.

Tells meeting inflation is the result of ‘corruption and plundering’ of previous governments

In the meeting, the sources said, the participants reviewed the demand and supply position of the basic food items. They said the prime minister had categorically told the economic team that he wanted to see the prices of essential commodities coming down quickly and that he wanted results in just 15 days.

The premier lauded the performance of the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) and said it did a remarkable job during the flour crisis as its sales increased by 800 per cent. He underlined the need for improving the corporation’s infrastructure and assured provision of more funds to it in order to ensure availability of basic food items.

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics last week reported that inflation rate had risen to 14.6pc in January from 12.6pc in the previous month, scaling the highest level in 12 years.

Inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), edged up 1.97pc over the previous month. Inflation in the country was recorded at 17pc in the year 2007-08.

The data released showed that higher food prices, particularly of wheat and wheat flour, pulses, sugar, gur and edible oil, had been the biggest driver of overall inflation in January.

It had also been observed that the prices of essential food items, especially vegetables and fruits, were higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Food inflation in urban areas rose by 19.5pc in January on a yearly basis and 2.7pc on a monthly basis whereas it increased by 23.8pc and 3.4pc, respectively, in rural areas. This clearly showed that food inflation is very high in rural areas where most of the population lives, which is an unprecedented phenomenon.

In urban areas, the food items which saw an increase in prices included pulse moong (19.74pc), pulse gram (18.2pc), chicken (17.53pc), eggs (14.28pc), wheat (12.63pc), besan (12.09pc), fresh vegetables (11.7pc), pulse mash (10.29pc), gur (9.49pc), beans (8.09pc), wheat flour (7.42pc), pulse masoor (7.33pc), condiments and spices (7.15pc), gram whole (6.68pc), sugar (5.07pc), fresh fruits (3.93pc), mustard oil (2.87pc), wheat products (2.64pc), vegetable ghee (2.18pc), rice (1.2pc), fish (1.19pc) and dry fruits (1.09pc).

On the flipside, items whose prices declined in urban areas included onion (18.37pc), tomato (8.36pc) and potato (3.69pc).

In rural areas the food items which saw a price hike included pulse moong (18.7pc), chicken (17.3pc), fresh vegetables (15.39pc), pulse gram (14.21pc), eggs (12.89pc), gur (12.84pc), besan (9.97pc), wheat (9.07pc), pulse masoor (6.77pc), vegetable ghee (6.55pc), cooking oil (6.48pc), pulse mash (6.31pc), wheat flour (6.16pc), mustard oil (5.13pc), condiments and spices (4.85pc), beans (4.54pc), sugar (4.36pc), gram whole (4.22pc), dry fruits (3.54pc), butter (2.49pc), potato (1.96pc), meat (1.82pc), rice (1.77pc), wheat products (1.67pc) and milk powder (1.4pc).

With the arrival of crops in Punjab, especially vegetables, it is predicted that food prices will come down. The prices of tomato, onion and potato and other vegetables will come down in February and March.

The urban CPI covers 35 cities and 356 consumer items, while the rural CPI tracks 27 rural centres and 244 items. The former grew by 13.4pc year-on-year in January, whereas the latter jumped by 16.3pc.

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