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KARACHI: Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has taken serious notice of skyrocketing prices of tomato, onion and other vegetables and directed the agriculture department to intervene to control the prices by reducing the role of middleman.

He also ordered commissioners and deputy commissioners to arrest profiteers and hoarders who created an artificial price hike of tomato and vegetables.

Recalling that the price of one kilogram of tomatoes increased to Rs250, he said that it was beyond the reach of poor people.

“I feel it is because of an artificial price hike created by hoarders,” he said and asked Sindh Agriculture Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal, who also holds the portfolio of home affairs, to personally investigate the matter and intervene in the vegetable market to stop the role of middlemen who had played havoc with the prices for their profit.

He said that Thatta and Sujawal districts produced early tomato crops, therefore, necessary arrangements be made to bring tomato of the two districts to the Karachi market.

“It seems as if the middlemen have also purchased the fresh tomato crop of the two districts but this must be stopped,” he said, urging the agriculture department to take necessary measures to regulate the prices of other vegetables, which were the only source of food for the poor.

A crucial meeting of all stakeholders is being convened today

Minister Siyal told Dawn that he had summoned a meeting of relevant stakeholders on Thursday (today) to review the price mechanism and exact situation against the backdrop of the recent hike in tomato price.

He said apparently the tomato crop in Sindh was available at the end of October and before that the crop from Balochistan used to meet the city’s requirement.

At present, he said there was a shortage of tomato in Balochistan in the current season as the crop was damaged because of some virus as a result 30 per cent of the crop was being supplied to Sindh and 70pc was being sent to Punjab.

In reply to a question, the minister said that traders were also taking advantage of the situation by indulging in price hike. However, exact situation regarding tomato and other vegetable supplies would be clear on Thursday after taking stock of the situation from all departments concerned, he added.

Usually, the prices of fresh vegetable and fruits start increasing from the eve of every Eidul Azha but return to normal within a week. However, this year the prices of vegetables, especially tomato, are being increased with every passing day.

Vegetable dealers said that the tomato price was increased because of a shortage in supply.

They said the only available crop was from Balochistan, as the crop of Sindh had damaged due to recent rains. They said there was an inordinate delay in supply from other provinces.

The per kilogram onion price is between Rs70 and Rs 80 and cucumber is available at Rs60 per kg in local market.

Wholesalers said the prices had been increased by retailers who were charging consumers in the absence of an effective price-checking mechanism.

The price of tomato, which was earlier available in market at Rs30 to Rs40 per kg, now crossed Rs 200 per kg.

The per kilo price of green chilli, lemon and cabbage have also increased from Rs80 to Rs120, Rs300 to Rs400 and from Rs60 to Rs80 per kg.

The government, which was supposed to curb profiteering, appeared nowhere to rein in the price hike leaving the consumers at the mercy of marketing forces.

In other provinces, food inspectors actively check and and monitor the quality of commodities, particularly milk, mineral water, meat. However, in Sindh the consumers have been left at the mercy of retailers and middle men who take full advantage of the slackness of the authorities.

Meanwhile,CM Shah also directed the transport department to conduct an environmental impact assessment of the Blue Line bus rapid rransit project so that it could be executed through a public-private partnership.

He said this while presiding over a meeting on the Blue Line project here at the CM House. The meeting was attended by Transport Minister Syed Nasir Shah, Chairman Planning and Development Mohammad Waseem, Principal Secretary to CM Sohail Rajput, Finance Secretary Hassan Naqvi, Transport Secretary Saeed Awan and others.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2017