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According to a Senate inquiry, a gas disruption produced a urea scarcity

ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary committee said on Thursday that a gas supply disruption to fertiliser facilities between June and September resulted in a 200,000-tonne urea shortfall.

The Senate Standing Committee on National Food Security and Research noted that the Cabinet’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) had determined that urea factories will stay operating from March to November while discussing the urea shortage. However, the facilities were out of commission from June 28 to September 16, resulting in a 200,000-tonne reduction in urea output.

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“We are suffering today due to a shutdown of urea plants. Why has a responsibility yet not been fixed? Why have people in the Ministry of Petroleum not been held accountable?” asked committee chair Syed Muzafar Hussain Shah.

The committee observed that this lapse will result in urea hoarding, price hike and an artificial shortage. It insisted on knowing who was responsible for keeping the urea plants shut between June and September. However, the response from the Ministry of National Food Security and Research was that no responsibility had been affixed.

“The committee recommends that inquiry be held why urea plants were shut despite the decision taken by the ECC, which has resulted in a grave crisis in the agriculture sector leading to rising prices of urea, shortage, black marketing besides the adverse effects on yield of wheat,” said Mr Shah.

The committee was informed by the food security ministry that the matter of gas shortage was taken up on various forums to ensure the supply to urea plants. It complained that due to the urea shortage the production of other crops such as cotton had also suffered. Many members of the committee complained non-availability of urea and wheat in their localities.

Another member drew the attention towards smuggling of urea to other countries where producers could fetch a much higher price than Rs1,767 per 50kg bag at home.

However, the ministry officials informed the committee that urea was short the world over, including India. China and Russia had stopped exporting urea. Pakistan was self-sufficient in the production of urea had the gas shortage not occurred.

According to the ministry officials, the prime minister presided over two meetings on the matter and directed an uninterrupted supply of gas to the industry. There were technicalities involved in the pressure of gas supplied to the plants.

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In response to observations made regarding the smuggling of urea through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan into Afghanistan, officials from the ministry stated that the law enforcement agencies were monitoring borders to prevent urea from being smuggled outside Pakistan.

Expressing concern, the standing committee maintained that the highest priority should be given to the availability of gas to urea plants to avoid shortages in the future.

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