There is an unprecedented price-hike this year. Where is the city district’s price control?
s the price-control system of the city administration fails to deliver, allegedly on account of rampant corruption, the sky-rocketing prices of daily commodities, including meat, vegetables and fruits, have made life miserable for most citizens. Many wonder as to how they will continue to meet even the basic needs of their families.
It appears that neither the provincial government nor the local administration is in a hurry to rescue the consumers, left mostly to their own coping devices or the mercy of the profiteering mafia for the holy month of Ramazan.
There has been an unprecedented price-hike this year. Some people allege that this would not have been possible if the relevant officials of the city administration were not hand in glove with the hoarders and black marketers preying on the average consumer. Some go on to allege even that the price-control mechanism is facilitating the rapid rise in prices of essential items.
The extent of the Ramazan price surge can be gauged from the fact that grade-1 bananas that were available at Rs 250 per dozen before Ramazan, are now being sold for as much as Rs 500; apples are being sold between Rs 200/ kg and Rs 450/ kg; water melon from Rs 100/ kg to Rs 300/ kg; oranges between Rs 250 and Rs 500 per dozen. The unreasonable raises are not limited to perishables like fresh fruits and vegetables, similar trends can be observed in the prices of pulses, edible oil, spices and wheat flour.
The price control committees are a picture of failure. They have become vitally useless and play no effective role in bringing the prices down. There is no apparent way to hold the corrupt in the price-control system accountable.
Retailers are clearly paying no heed any longer to the rate lists issued by the deputy commissioner’s office on a daily as well as a fortnightly basis. Most of them themselves determine the prices they are going to charge.
Arif Akram, a resident of Gulberg, says that the deputy commissioner has a responsibility to direct the assistant commissioners and price control magistrates under him to act against the profiteers, particularly during Ramazan. Akram says that the DC and his team must visit the bazaars to monitor the prices. Without such effort, he says, it is naïve to expect the shopkeepers to abide by the rate lists issued by his office.
The way things are, he says, the officers appear least bothered to perform their duties.
Retailers are not paying any heed to the rate lists issued by the deputy commissioner’soffice on daily as well as fortnightly basis.
“They are never seen doing this. The administration has failed on this front. That’s why the profiteering mafia is free to fleece people at their will,” he adds.
Sources in the city administration say there is an acute shortage of price control staff. Requesting anonymity, an officer says, there are around 180 price control magistrates in the city. “Can this be a sufficient number?” he asks. “Isn’t it strange that they should be considered enough for a population of over 15 million. He says in view of the shortage, a number of city administration officials whose job description does not include price control, have also been assigned the task. He says grossly overworked staff is a factor in the failure of the price control mechanism.
According to Ali Sheraz, a correspondent for a TV channel, most of the price control magistrates have engaged private persons to check the prices on their behalf. “Instead of keeping a strict check on the rates, they have become a part of the problem,” he says. “They collect ‘monthly fees’ from the shopkeepers,” he alleges. He says the money so raised is shared with senior officers of the city administration. He says the rates list for vegetables, fruits and milk are prepared by the DC’s office with the help of price control committees on a daily basis. Prices for commodities like oil, pulses and rice, are reviewed on a fortnightly basis.
All the shopkeepers are required to display the rate lists at a prominent place so that customers can easily see it, says Sheraz. “However, many of them neither display the rate lists nor sell the commodities at the proposed rates.”
Sheraz says most vendors charge first-grade rates for second-grade fruits and vegetables. In this, he says, they are encouraged by a lack of regular inspection.
Fines for profiteering range from Rs 500 to Rs 25,000. Sheraz says the city administration never imposes heavy fines even when they catch some shopkeepers flouting the price lists. So far, he says, none of the shopkeepers has been fined more than Rs 3,000. Because of this, he says, there is no sense of deterrence.
Another aspect of the problem is that handcarts catering to a large fraction of the population are not registered with the city administration. If a handcart vendor is fined for profiteering, there is no guarantee that they will pay the fine or that the administration will catch up with them.
The deputy commissioner’s office says the city administration has chalked out a comprehensive plan to keep the prices in check during Ramazan. It says special magistrates are regularly carrying out raids to apprehend and penalise profiteers. “No one will be allowed to fleece the public,” The News on Sunday is told.
The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org