LAHORE: Consumers say they are getting essentials at reduced prices at the utility stores but after queuing up for hours outside the stores in the sun.

The federal government has launched a special relief package through the Utility Stores Corporation to provide subsidies on 19 basic items for the convenience of the people. Discounts of up to 15 per cent are being offered on more than 1,500 items available at utility stores. They include ghee, sugar, pulses, flour, edible oil and rice.

Finance Minister Miftah Ismail claims that sugar is available at the rate of Rs70 to Rs75 per kg, which is the lowest price since 2019. Atta (wheat flour) is being sold at Rs800 per 20kg bag and at Rs400 per 10kg bag.

The USC has, however, set the condition for customers to show their computerised national identity cards (CNICs) at counters before billing of the purchases. Those without the CNICs have to pay enhanced prices for the goods. For example, the price of sugar goes up by Rs9 per kg to cost Rs80 to Rs85 and the price of one kg of ghee by Rs195 to cost Rs455.

Also, if somehow one forgets to include anything in the shopping list and goes to get that after making payment for the earlier purchased items, the system does not accept the CNIC for these additional item(s) and one has to pay at market rates for these goods,” bemoans a customer, Maqbool.

The USC staff also denies purchase of sugar or cooking oil as single items.

“The store management is not allowing the purchase of just cooking oil and sugar. One has to buy other items as well,” says Omar who runs a computer hardware shop close to a utility store at Dharampura. The quality of the merchandise being sold at utility stores is not up to the mark. Omar is, however, contended with the quality saying the better quality will definitely demand better prices which most of the people cannot afford.

Long queues during the month of Ramazan were witnessed under the scorching sun. Maqbool says the people were more interested in buying cooking oil and atta as their prices were significantly lower than the market rates. The failure to get the items even after standing for hours led to disappointment and clash of words between the staff and customers at some places.

A store manager says he receives supplies of one truckload of atta daily and the whole consignment is sold within a couple of hours. This makes the customers frustrated who have been waiting for hours to get hold of the commodity and they start using harsh words against the staff accusing them of selling the flour to shopkeepers, he adds.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2022

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