Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Jul 27, 2005
Agri-Biz & Commodities - Insight
Columns - Down to Earth
Where are Pakistan's commodities headed?
The current hike in the prices of agricultural commodities in Pakistan is a case in point. Imagine the urban consumers' outcry in India if potato were to be sold at Rs 33 a kg, garlic at Rs 73 a kg, and meat at Rs 150 per kg. In Pakistan, wheat has been hovering above Rs 1,400 a quintal for over six months, while the prices of potato and garlic have trebled over the last two months. In India, in one instance when the prices of onion reached Rs 50 per kg, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance lost power in five States. If agricultural commodity prices in India reached the current levels prevailing in Pakistan, many a government would find it difficult to survive. Any significant intelligence on that? Nothing really. According to a news report, "India to blame for rising farm goods prices in Pak" (Business Line, July 23), the price levels mentioned in the paragraph above are actually prevailing in Pakistan.
A kilogramme of potato is selling at the equivalent of 30 Indian rupees, garlic at Rs (INR) 70 , wheat at around Rs (INR) 150 a kg, and meat above Rs (INR) 140 per kg.
In terms of Pakistan rupees (PKR), the figures are about 50 per cent higher.
The prices of wheat in Pakistan, even six months ago, were as high as Rs 1,400 per quintal, when Punjab and Haryana farmers were on the road demanding a increase in the minimum support price Rs 685. The Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, who went on a short visit to Pakistan, said that there was the possibility of Punjab exporting wheat to Pakistan. A delegation of farmers had even called on the Prime Minister to request that export of wheat be considered as one more instrument in the initiative towards improving relations with Pakistan. Evidently, no action was initiated at the level of the Prime Minister's Office. No one knows if any notice was taken of this significant situation by the intelligence agencies.
How are Pakistani President, Gen Pervez Musharraf, and his government explaining to the people this hyper-inflation in agricultural commodity prices? The usual way: Blame the favourite punching bag India.
Media reports from Pakistan blame India for going slow on exports and trying to drive a hard bargain. Islamabad is blaming New Delhi for the rise in prices of at least five commodities, maintaining that it does not allow exports of these goods across the border, though Islamabad has allowed an annual import of livestock up to 10 lakh, besides unlimited quantities of onion, garlic and tomato from India.
It is apparently interested in importing wheat and sugar too. Is that not a significant strand of intelligence? There is possibly some truth in Pakistan's allegation, because Indian officials give the bland explanation that exports can take place by the land route to Pakistan without any official hurdle, but that no exporter has yet approached the authority concerned to send consignments to Pakistan.
India has been demanding that Pakistan give it transit facility for consignments of wheat to Afghanistan on the land route. But the latter has been refusing this demand on the ground that Indian wheat has traces of Karnal Bunt. That is a funny argument because the prevalence of Karnal Bunt is a pre-Partition phenomenon that is as much prevalent in the wheat-producing regions of Pakistan as in India. If Pakistan sends its wheat to Afghanistan, it is difficult to understand why it is not willing to allow Indian wheat transit facility to the same destination? The authorities in India maintain that the problem of transit to Afghanistan is unconnected with the situation of short supply from India to Pakistan; this is a perennial problem and New Delhi has not imposed any restrictions on supply of these commodities to Pakistan.
Where, then, are potatoes, onions and garlic going in such volumes as to cause a shortage for the domestic consumer? From media reports, it is clear that in the past few months Pakistan has been sending consignments of wheat, potato, onion, tomato and garlic to Afghanistan, Iran or other destinations.
(The author is Founder, Shetkari Sanghatana and Member of Rajya Sabha. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)
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