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Print Print 2023-04-25

Wheat price decision: LHC puts its weight behind caretaker govt

  • Says fixing of wheat price was within the jurisdiction and powers of the government
Published April 25, 2023

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court held that the supply of free flour to the underprivileged cannot be called into question before this court if the situation so demands, as it is for the government to provide the same to the people living below the poverty line and cannot purchase from their own sources.

The court also said that to stop the supply of free flour for the provision of wheat and flour to the other citizens at subsidised rates is without any legal justification and said supply of free flour under the “Ramazan package” being a policy decision of the government did not have merit to interfere with by this court.

The court passed this order in a petition filed by a bar member challenging the fixation of wheat price by the caretaker government at a rate of Rs 3900 per 40 kg.

Punjab approves wheat purchase policy

The court dismissed the petition and held that the matter is within the policy-making domain of the government, and also to benefit the deserving people.

The court said the counsel for the petitioner has vehemently argued that the caretaker government had no jurisdiction to fix the prices by enhancing the previous prices which even otherwise is against the Election Act, 2017 but this court is not impressed by the said stance of the counsel as the previous stock had been supplied to flour mills and very little stock available with the Food Department was depleting.

Therefore, more stock was required to be procured to avoid shortage of stock for emergent situations which had necessitated the government to take immediate measures to cater the needs of the people without any loss of time and to avoid shortage of wheat, which exercise, if not carried out immediately, could become a reason for the increase of wheat price and also making the same out of reach of the general public.

The court held that the caretaker government by its mandate provided by section 230(a) of the Election Act, 2017 was empowered to manage and take necessary steps to cater to the matter as it was related to the day-to-day situation and, hence the fixing of wheat price was within the jurisdiction and powers of the said government, the court added.

The court observed that the provincial government being an executive organ of the State regulates the same matter through the Food department by basing its decision on various factors hence fixation of the wheat price does not in any manner amount to unjust enrichment of the Government as a benefit of the same is being provided to deserving people.

The court observed that it is settled by now that fixation of prices of commodities such as purchase and sale of wheat by government, provision of wheat to flour mills, subsidized value, framing of policy to provide flour at a particular rate or free of cost to deserving people of the society is within the policy-making domain of government which function has to be performed by the government keeping in view the position including the availability of stocks coupled with demand and supply.

The government keeping in view other factors including regulating market forces fixed the wheat price and the same cannot be fixed at the whims and desires of the petitioners who even otherwise neither have any such data available with them nor they have the capability to determine various aspects of the price-fixing criteria and hence the said power of the executive cannot be ordinarily interfered with by this court in its constitutional jurisdiction, the court added.

The court also observed that in the absence of any law or policy, the court cannot issue directions to respondents to provide the flour/wheat to the consumers at subsidised rates.

The main crux of arguments raised on behalf of petitioners is that the government purchased wheat for the season 2022-23 at the rate of Rs 2200 per 40 kg from the growers, which the government is supplying to the flour mills at the rate of Rs 3900 per 40 kg by increasing the same from the initial subsidised price of Rs 1765 per 40 kg, which was thereafter increased to Rs 2300 per 40 kg.

It is claimed that even if government is not in a position to provide subsidies, it cannot sell wheat to flour mills at enhanced rates because by the said act of the government not only price of flour has increased manifold resulting in inflation but also the poor public is suffering from the same and have been made to starve.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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Tulukan Mairandi Apr 25, 2023 07:41am
100% rational decision in a country that is headed towards a famine
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