Roti in Pakistan

Posted on January 11, 2008
Filed Under >Wasim Arif, Food, Society
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Wasim Arif

azal se Adam-o-gandum meiN ae dost
ajab andaaz ki khat-pat rahi hai
barabar baRh raha hai narkh-i-gandum
bani Adam ki qeemat ghat rahi hai

The classic movie Roti starring the legendary Rajesh Khanna begins with his character Mangal stealing roti as a child from a restaurant to fill his empty stomach. This event transforms him for life because he is punished for this ‘heinous sin’ and from here on in his life of crime begins.

In another classic Bollywood film Deewar starring the legendary Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan, one scene stands out where Shashi Kapoor’s character fires on a boy who is stealing roti for his family. Later he realises his mistake and offers the family food which is rejected by the boy’s mother who cries and throws the roti away upon hearing her son was shot only because he stole roti. The moral behind the stories and their relevance today to a Pakistan crying out for roti is so obvious it need not even be stated.

Yesterday I nearly fell of my chair in bewilderment and anger when Geo TV reported that roti was now selling at a staggering 5 rupees in Karachi. At times of such gloom I then add to my woes by reflecting on the founding vision of Pakistan as a land of the pure. This nation was after all, envisaged as the solution to the problem of bread for the Muslim masses by the great Allama Iqbal. How we have failed!

However the current atta crisis is a crisis like no other having no parallel even for this crisis prone government. Yet its effects on the poor toiling masses cannot be imagined who are literally in agony today thanks to this departing present from a failed Musharraf regime. The price of a bag of atta has increased tenfold with millions of Pakistanis unable to enjoy their most basic of fundamental rights – food. And yes the ‘Supreme Court’ should take suo moto notice of this breach of our rights (we are waiting with bated breath Justice Dogar!) but more importantly one must wonder whether the government will take notice itself?

The government’s worst crime during the atta crisis has been its indifference by design or default in looking the other way. Just like the sugar scandal and others before it, the government has sat idly by and enjoyed the view as the masses suffer thanks in this instance to the illegal and immoral hoarding of wheat by the powerful atta mafia. Such an act is unforgivable and it is tantamount to a war crime against our own people and it makes my blood boil.

The right to food is a universal human right. Yet it is a right alien to most Pakistanis collectively known as the masses whom live a life of squalor and degradation. Food was first declared a right in the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By 2004 the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization Council had adopted “voluntary guidelines for the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food,” with 187 governments as signatories.

Furthermore twenty-two countries have enshrined the right to food in their constitutions, either for all citizens or specifically for children including Pakistan with Article 38 Section D of the Constitution of Pakistan stating that:

‘ The State shall provide basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, housing, education, and medical relief for all such citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment’

On 16 October 2007, the United Nations celebrated World Food Day with the theme ‘The Right to Food’ reminding us all that it is the right of every person to have regular access to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and culturally acceptable food for an active, healthy life. That it is the right to feed oneself in dignity, rather than the right to be fed. That with more than 850 million people in the world still deprived of enough food, the right to food is not just economically, morally and politically imperative – it is also a legal obligation.

Pakistan too celebrated the day with messages of support from luminaries no less than the ‘President’ and ‘Prime Minister’. Most notably the ‘Federal Minister’ for Food, Agriculture and Livestock Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan chose to shout from the rooftops in his address on the day that:

The right to food has been accorded universal recognition. It is a binding obligation which is well established under international law. And the right to food has also been well recognized in numerous national constitutions’.

However actions speak louder than words for only a few weeks earlier the same Mr. Bosan and his cabinet colleagues chose to look away at illegal wheat hoarding by the powerful atta mafia. Consequently the atta shortage and rocketing roti prices prevalent today all over Pakistan are the sole responsibility of men like Bosan in the Musharraf regime. The following newspaper extracts from September and October 2007 provide ample proof of criminal negligence and even complicity and serve as an open charge and a damning indictment against the Musharraf/Aziz regime:

Federal ministers are divided over a proposal to crack down on individuals hoarding wheat as they feel that action against “some influential people” could create problems for the ruling party in the general election. According to a report submitted by intelligence agencies a few weeks ago, a number of “major players” are stockpiling wheat. But the government is hesitant to attach “top priority” to the scandal because of the election factor.

The revelation prompted another minister, from Punjab, to advise the government to avoid launching such an operation ‘for the time being’. He said it might ‘upset influential people’, creating ‘problems’ for the government in an election season. It has been learnt that black market operators have now decided to make windfall profits by hoarding non-perishable farm produce, e.g. wheat, rice and sugar, because the stock and real estate markets had failed to yield high returns. The average price of locally-produced wheat was 200 dollars per ton against the landed cost of the imported variety, which amounted to $415 a ton in September, leaving a profit margin of more than 50 per cent to the hoarders.

Towering political figures, both on the treasury and the opposition benches, have been found involved in the ongoing wheat and flour crisis, having managed to swindle around over Rs 6 billion by hoarding and then smuggling the commodity to the neighboring countries, top official sources in the finance ministry told The News. The sources said that the opposition parties had more or less also joined the government’s ‘unscrupulous figures’ in this loot as they had not come out with any protest worth the name against the crisis. Rather, political parties have left the masses in the lurch to bear the bite of inflation.

They hoarded wheat and with the connivance of ministers, both in the federal and provincial governments, they managed to smuggle the commodity, as the said ministers are also landlords, big growers and also possess flour and rice mills. It is pertinent to mention here that the government has decided not to constitute a commission to launch a probe into the wheat scam, as major chunk of ministers and politicians with agriculture background are not in favour of such a move.

Today the poor caretaker government is bearing the brunt of criticism when the real blame lies with Pervez Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz and their respective fan clubs which pass for political parties. The News editorial of 8th January hits the nail on the head by reminding us:

The ‘atta’ crisis is adding to the sense of unease and uncertainty currently prevailing in the country. An inability to readily obtain vital items of food will, after all, inevitably breed insecurity. There is thus an urgent need to ensure that supplies swiftly reach the worst-hit areas, to regulate prices and to act against all those engaged in pocketing large profits, so that the misery of desperate people can be brought to an immediate end’

I echo those sentiments and pray for rapid improvement on the ground so that the masses can get respite. I pray above all that roti is made affordable for the poor and wretched of Pakistan for whom my words of solace are not enough. In the words of the Quaid

‘we must concentrate wholly on improving conditions for the great masses of the poor’.

We must do better as a nation, we must build a better Pakistan, a more just Pakistan, an ‘other’ Pakistan.

Wasim Arif blogs at Other Pakistan. He can reached at

23 responses to “Roti in Pakistan”

  1. RJ says:

    The only solution is to cut your population and work hard, there is no other way out. All you folks sitting on this forum are liable to teach this simple things to your Pakistani fellows instead of pointing fingers and blaming others. If Pakistani people don’t cut the population “ATTA” is just a starting point, soon there will be lot of things they will be deprived off, and no one else but people of Pakistan will be responsible for that.

    My writing would seem bit cruel to some philosophers running the show on this forum, but at the end some body has to speak the truth and take the correct measures.

  2. Adnan says:

    People across South Asia are struggling to cope with a severe shortage of affordable wheat and rice.

    Fine. So Qatil League and Dictator finally found a “genuine” reason to hide the corruption of their men.

  3. Sidhas says:

    Wasim, Welcome and good to read your post. I can relate to your roti for 5 ruppees shock. If I remember correctly, it was .25 paisa. 1900 percent increase over 27 years (1981); 70% increase per year.

    Chand bhi roti lagay hai.
    Chand per bhaiti bibi ka churkha bhi roti lagay hai.

    aur dosari janib…
    moot khud-kush hamla-awar ki shakal mein saar per mundla rahi hai.

    Pakistan ke log kis qadr mushkil mein hain. Karsaz hai khuda, koi rah nikalay….

  4. Roshan and Pervez Saab’s,

    Roshan Saab – Thanks for the info and background, it has given us all the ‘big picture’ as it were and your comments have added to the post.

    Pervez Saab – Your comments are pertinent as usual. I only wish I could remember the Allama even more not just in name but in actions too!


  5. Roshan says:

    We are suffering from the worst ever food crises since the inception of our country. Its totally a Man Made Disaster in which people does not have access to adequate food where supply and availability of food is controlled by some market forces, while government is raising fingers on previous regime. This type of situation occurs when countries face drought, famine, flood or hurricanes but we had surplus production this year. It also shows that surplus production is does not necessarily enable the people to have access to adequate food but it is the effective and equitable distribution mechanism which ensures it.
    We need to look into why and how it happened. Where was the POLICY FLAW which is now frustrating the whole nation and if not controlled sensibly and immediately, will be transformed into food riots.
    Traditionally, wheat was produced by the farmers was procured by Pakistan Agricultural Storage & Supplies Corporation (PASSCO) and provincial food departments of Sind and Punjab governments by a support price set by the government. The provincial governments used to supply wheat to flour mills which ultimately sell it to urban consumers through their distribution channels. PASSCO used to procure wheat for Baluchistan, NWFP, AJK and Pakistan Army.
    Back in 2001, the government signed a loan agreement Agriculture Structural Reforms with Asian Development Bank (ADB) in which government agreed to reduce number of wheat procurement centers (Both provincial governments and PASSCO) and encourage the free market to intervene in wheat sector by procuring wheat from the farmers and sell it to flour mills directly.
    The civil society organizations and small farmer groups had vehemently criticized the policy as small farmers had been facing tremendous difficulties to sell their wheat in open market as the market forces were procuring the wheat from the farmers on the price less than fixed by the government. The government on the other hand made lame excuses by not procuring wheat from the farmers. We witnessed farmers sybolically burning their wheat for not having just price.
    In 2003, World Food Program and Sustainable Development Policy Institute released State of Food Insecurity in Pakistan which showed that 70 districts of Pakistan are food insecure but the government gave deaf ear to that report. The market forces including the hoarders are a powerful mafia having strong representation in former parliament, stock market, importers and exporters. The moment they found that wheat prices all around the world are souring, they get permission to export wheat this year as the country was surplus in production and now they are minting money by importing it. Interestingly, the farmgate prices did not increase during this time. Rather it is middleman which got the profit. All the sufferings are for poor consumers (women and men) who spend all the day to get a stack of flour to feed their children.
    One needs to understand that free market mantra does not work on every commodity and particularly, the food security crops necessarily not to be included in the framework of free market as it hampers our national food sovereignty.
    Of course, right to food is a universal human right which unfortunately is not exercised and enjoyed by Pakistani people.
    General comment 12 adopted by committee on International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Right in its twentieth session in 1999 specifically deals with Right to Adequate Food. Though General comments are not legal binding but are considered as authoritative interpretation of right.
    General comment 12 explicitly discusses that state has three levels of obligation to protect, respect and fulfill the right to food for all its people at individual and community level. The obligation to Respect right to food is that State should not take any measure at international, national or local level which prevent the existing access to adequate food. The obligation to Protect requires State not to take any measure in which enterprises or individuals may deprive or harm the access to adequate food. The obligation to Fulfill seeks State to proactively facilitate the measures which strengthen peoples access to those resources which help them to attain food security. It is also State

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