WITH the month of Ramazan underway, people have begun to feel the effects of galloping inflation even more. Prices for essentials were already on the ascent before the month set in. However, with the beginning of the fasting month, partially due to rising demand and mostly due to the insatiable greed of traders, prices for food items are hitting the roof. It has been a rough year with Covid-19 — amongst other factors — shaking the national economy. In such bleak times, the working and indeed even the middle classes are being deprived of the simple pleasure of sharing iftar delights such as fruit and other delicacies with family due to high costs. As is mostly the case, official price lists do not reflect the realities of the market, with a wide margin between government prices and the cost of goods in the bazaar. Every year, in the run-up to Ramazan, officials make the same tired announcements and promise that profiteering will not be tolerated, but these efforts are merely for public consumption. The trader rules the market, and charges the consumer at will.
There have been some steps to check the price hike during Ramazan, such as offering staples at subsidised prices at Utility Stores. However, this solution is limited in scope as not everyone has access to Utility Stores, and crowding at such establishments during the pandemic — as a picture published in this paper has shown — throws up fresh challenges. There is a need to ensure that the price-checking mechanism at the local level is working properly, and that profiteers are fined for fleecing the public. Moreover, a more realistic pricing mechanism needs to be put in place as traders — not entirely without justification — say the government sets prices unilaterally, without their input. A middle ground needs to be found that allows consumers to buy basic kitchen essentials at affordable prices, and traders to make a profit within respectable margins without breaking the poor man’s back.
Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2021