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ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary body, on Thursday, asked the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNFS&R) to conduct an inquiry for identifying those responsible for shutting down of two LNG-based urea manufacturing plants from June 28 to September 16, which resulted in shortage of 200,000 tons urea, which led to an increase in prices of urea fertilisers.

The Senate Standing Committee on National Food Security and Research meeting presided over by Senator Syed Muzafar Hussain Shah directed the MNFS&R to conduct an inquiry to pinpoint people responsible for shutting down Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)-based urea manufacturing plants from June 28 to September 16 despite, the decision of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet that these two plants will remain operational from March to November 2021.

The committee chairman asked the secretary MNFS&R that who was responsible for shutting down two LNG-based plants. Did anyone was held responsible by the government for closing of these LNG plants, he asked.

The secretary replied that so far, no one has been held responsible for shutting down of the two LNG-based plants despite, the ECC decision. He further said that gas allocation is the job of the Ministry of Energy.

Shah said that the shortage of urea would badly affect wheat production as well as the production of other Rabi crops.

Shah said that according to the working submitted by the MNFS&R before the committee that it was decided by the ECC of the Cabinet that two LNG-based urea manufacturing plants will remain operational from March to November 2021.

However, these plants remained non-operational from June 28 to September 16 resulting in a dent on production by 200,000 tonnes. The shortfall in production paved way for malpractices such as hoarding, undue price hike, and artificial shortage.

The ministry’s official document further said that due to shortage of urea average price of urea touched Rs2,061 per bag as reported by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) on November 25.

The committee expressed serious concerns over the shortage of urea and urged the ministry to take up the issue over various forums, so that the same crises did not repeat.

Tahir Khursheed, secretary MNFS&R told the committee that the ministry has effectively raised the issue at various forums. The government in coordination with provincial agriculture departments and the district administration took anti-hoarding and price control measures resulting in reducing of price level of Rs1,867 per bag, he said.

He said that the ECC of the Cabinet has decided to provide additional gas to urea manufacturing plants of Fauji Fertilizer Bin Qasim Limited (FFBL) and Pak Arab in order to combat smuggling of urea.

The committee also asked the ministry to take effective steps for curbing smuggling of urea as some members raised the issue of smuggling.

Khursheed said that the government has set up a committee of all border security agencies for controlling smuggling of urea.

Currently, the price of urea in the international market is very high and China has banned export of urea, he said, adding that an international market price of urea is ranging from Rs9,000 to Rs10,000 per bag, while in Pakistan, price per bag of urea is 1,750.

However, he said that the country does not have urea fertiliser as much as it required. The committee also recommended formation of wheat board consisting of representatives of the federal, the provincial governments, and the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (PASSCO) representatives to fix Minimum Support Price (MSP) before sowing of wheat every year.

The committee also expressed concern over a delay in fixing of wheat MSP and lack of uniform policy for fixing of MSP in the country.

Farkhar Imam, minister for MNFS&R informed the committee that to insure uniform wheat MSP, the government has passed an ordinance. He further said that 96 percent wheat sowing has completed in the country.

Shah said that this was the second year that the problem of fixing uniform wheat MSP has not been resolved.

Regarding tender for supply of 840,000 exotic olive plants, the matter was referred to the MNFS&R that will constitute a committee and will report back to standing committee.

The committee expressed anger over the absence of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) acting chairman, Dr Ghulam Muhammad Ali in the meeting. The committee chairman directed the secretary MNFS&R to call the PARC chairman to reach the meeting immediately.

When the PARC acting chairman reached the meeting, Shah, the chairman of the committee, asked him that why did he fail to attend the meeting, which was scheduled at 11am?

The PARC chairman replied that he was not sure that the meeting will be held at 11am as in many cases it happens that when the senate is in session in the morning, the meeting of the standing committee is held in the evening.

At this, the chairman committee called the acting chairman PARC to come to his seat and read the agenda. When he read out the agenda, it was not mentioned in the agenda that when the Senate session will be in the morning than the meeting of the committee will be held in the evening, upon that the other members of the committee laughed.

Some of the committee members questioned who has appointed “this man” as the acting chairman of the PARC. At this, the secretary MNFS&R said that the ministry has appointed him as he is one of the senior most officers in the National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC).

I am a PhD scientist and also did post-doctorates from different foreign universities as well as remained a professor at a university in Canada but left the job to serve my country, Ali said, when he was asked by Senator Zarqa Suharwardy Taimur and Samina Mumtaz Zehri, what was his qualification.

Shah asked Ali that how many posting and transfer he has made after taking charge as the PARC acting chairman.

Ali replied that he had transferred and posted 28 officers. The chairman of the committee again asked Ali as to why he posted a junior PS-19 officer as Director General (DG) instead of two BS-20 officers who are currently serving in the NARC.

At this, the NARC acting chairman said that the two officers about whom you are questioning had shown unwillingness to become DG. At this, the secretary MNFS&R said he will conduct an inquiry in this regard and action will be taken. Shah directed the secretary of the committee to summon these two BS-20 officers during the next meeting.

The committee, while reviewing the list presented by the PARC with respect to the vacant positions; directed that details of marks obtained, interview committee, short-listed candidates, and grade-wise postings be submitted before it.

The committee also expressed grave displeasure regarding the publishing of advertisements in newspapers other than the ones specified by the committee. The committee issued direction that in addition to English and Urdu, advertisements must be published in regional dailies as well.

The meeting was also attended by senator Seemee Ezdi, Sania Nishtar, Kesho Bai, Jam Mehtab Hussain Dahar, Kamran Murtaza, Muhammad Akram, MNFS&R Fakhar Imam, and senior officers from the MNFS&R. Senator Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti, Fawzia Arshad, and Samina Mumtaz also attended as special invitees.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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