Tuesday, September 16, 2008


By Muhammad Mahtab Bashir

Price hike and the sacred month of Ramadan are synonymous on this land of pure. Irrational rise in edible prices have become a recurrent phenomemnon on the eve of this month. Shopkeepers and market mafias are involved in black-marketing in total disregard for the religion that urges for maintaining its sanctity and austerity.

Half way through to this month of fasting, the measures so far taken to check the price spiral by govermnet does not seem to be adequate. The commerce ministry that is responsible for maintenance of price, virtually does not have any control over the market. Practically the commerce ministry is always found unenthusiastic to impose any strong and effective steps to control mrket. The minsitry usually holds formal meetings with the trader groups urging them to keep prices of essentials constatnt during the holy month of fasting and the ground reality is that traders always turn a deaf ear to such advices.

Extra charging almost on each food and other essential items tells you that the moon of Ramadan has been sighted. Each trader in the market raced ahead of the other in ignoring the price list issued by concerned government authorities and fleecing the skin of consumers without fear of any check on him. They say it "Haaza Min Fazli Rabbi."

At the start of this holy month, the federal government had announced a relief package of Rs 1.75 billion for retail consumers, ensuring the availability of kitchen items across the country at unified subsidised rates. According to this package the essential items would be provided to the masses by a network of 5500 utility stores for which the government will bear the subsidy up to Rs. 2000 million. Question arises here why the government has restricted this facility at utility stores only and why does it not extend to open market for easy reach of the common man? There are many ares in different cities of the country or so many cities where no utility store exists. Instances has also revealed the quantity and quality of items sold at utility stores are usually found unsatisfactory and below standard due to careless supervision and misconduct.

Government has formed some price checking committees to protect the common men from the profiteering of the shop keepers, but that is proving useless. First because, rarely any government is seen at the marketplace, and if somebody comes he is thoroughly ignored by the shopkeepers, because they know that they have already taken care of that officials and his bosses.

The holy month of Ramazan has been welcomed with traditional zeal and zest and the prices of all the things have been raised from 50% to 80%. The prices of fruits and vegetable remained all time high and shortage of flour prevailed and the prices of oil, pulses, milk, and other edibles have gone through the roof.

The reason the government could not act on time is because it does not have mechanism to monitor the market and to get up-dated information about demand and supply of various items, day-to-day retail, whole sale market prices, market prices in the country from where good are being imported, tranportaion costs, approximate time period for transport and other related issues, so that it can work out on a reasonable price policy and then bargain with business enterprenuer.

On a broader scale, when we closely inspect the ways retail or wholesale business works it is clear that they simply do not have much control of the market. It is only the importers who have the means and scope to manipulate the market, because they set the price of any item at the first place. Sometime before they finished a particular challan the prices go up from where the goods were imported. They immediately raise the prices though they are actually selling from the same challan. Sometime they intentionllay play delaying tactics in placing orders or keep stocks for longer periods to create an artificial crisis. Sometimes they exploit their own engineered crisis to force the government to withdraw taxes on imported goods to multiply their profit.

Flour, edible oil, gram pulse, gram flour, tea, dates and sugar are the main items that are consumed in larger amount during Ramazan. Can we cut out on these items as much as possible during this Ramadan?

The market mafia has started hoarding various products commonly required during ramadan that indicate their wayward intentions of black-marketing but our governmental machinery at federal, provioncial and district levels is a silent spectator. Half of the month of ramadan is over and government has not yet announced any policy or startegy to control price-hike.

Keeping in view the past experiences of traditional black-marketing during ramadan, government should fix selling prices, binding on wholesale and retail merchants and depute officials to ensure the sale of these items at controlled price in open market to facilitate all citizens durinf this holy month and not allow anyone to indulge in black-marketing and hoarding and to punish violators publicly without discrimination. It can only be possible if concerned authorities shun rhetoric and act tangibly.

Muhammad Mahtab Bashir is a freelance contributor from Islamabad

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