October Issue 2009

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 15 years ago

Nearly 20 women lost their lives in a stampede in a low income locality of Karachi. It was all over a 10-kilo bag of rice that a wholesaler was distributing to each of the 200 plus poor women who had queued up since early morning in Ramazan.

However, the tragic incident didn’t deter women from landing up at the rice dealer’s place again the following morning.

Queuing up for charity, cheap rations and, in most instances, water in the blazing summer afternoons has become a way of life for the country’s poor, as prices spiral to heights never witnessed before.

Sugar sells at Rs 50 a kilo or more and wheat flour at Rs 35. Never mind what the Lahore High Court or the Supreme Court ordered.

The rush to jack up prices gains momentum at the onset of Ramazan every year — talk of piety in the holy month!

Among the more notorious violators of the law are the avaricious feudal lords sitting in the assemblies who own acres and acres of land, in addition to sugar and flour mills. And who, when it comes to the crunch, band together to preserve their own ostentatious lifestyles, their Prados and Armanis, while they peddle dreams of roti, kapra aur makan to the masses, alongside.

While stories of the poor going hungry and some even resorting to selling their children or committing suicide abound, there is news that the government plans to dole out farmlands to the Gulf countries on a 99-year lease — for corporate farming. The produce from these farms will be directed there.

In its bid to grab some more petro-dollars, ostensibly to fuel the country’s faltering economy, is the government even considering the consequences of these 99-year leases? From where will the water, which is so scant even for our own farmers’ needs, be made available for corporate farmers? Will it be diverted from the poor agriculturist’s patch of land? Additionally, who is going to foot the two-billion-dollar bill for the promised 100,000 security personnel to protect the lands? And what happens to the soil after that 99-year period — will it be in a fit condition to use, after all the mechanised and chemical farming on it?

More importantly, how will we meet the country’s own food needs? Will we then be importing wheat from the US and rice from somewhere else at prohibitively exorbitant rates?

The government, it appears, has not even paid heed to any of these critical issues. Money seems to be the only consideration.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.