FOOD inflation continues to challenge the resolve of the government to control the prices of essential kitchen items as much as it does the patience of millions of lower-middle-income households across the country. In the last two years, food prices have increased by an aggregate of more than a third, forcing most families to cut down on their daily caloric intake. Others have been compelled to reduce their essential expenditure on education and health so that they can put food on the table. Barring its frequent claims of moving the administrative machinery against hoarders, the government has mostly stood on the side as a helpless bystander. A report in this newspaper on Wednesday lays bare the government’s claims of having brought food inflation down. The prices of sugar and staple wheat flour have risen again significantly in spite of the availability of sufficient stocks of the two commodities. Similarly, pulses, edible oil and other items are also showing a rising price trend. Traders blame speculators — or middlemen — and increasing global commodity prices for the return of this drift. Even the threat of more sugar imports and wheat seems to have failed to deter the speculators from manipulating the market. Though the government formed a committee earlier this month to take action against hoarders, nothing substantive has been done so far to provide relief to the citizens.

These have been very difficult times for the majority of the population because of the devastating impact of Covid-19 on an economy that was already struggling. A large number of people employed in the informal sectors have lost their jobs as businesses struggle to cope with the effects of the health crisis. Others have had to bear heavy cuts in their wages. The rising food prices in these circumstances have underscored the government’s inability to do its job properly and protect citizens from profiteers and market manipulators. It is time the government stopped making hollow claims and started doing its job.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2021

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