Consumers in Karachi left at retailers’ mercy in Ramazan

Published March 18, 2024
A volunteer prepares plates of biryani for Muslim devotees gathered to break their fast during the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan in Karachi on March 17, 2024. — AFP
A volunteer prepares plates of biryani for Muslim devotees gathered to break their fast during the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan in Karachi on March 17, 2024. — AFP

• Govt fails to put in place an effective price control mechanism
• Ban on exports did not bring down prices of onions and bananas, survey shows

KARACHI: Relevant local authorities have failed to ensure availability and sale of Ramazan related items on the prices fixed by the Karachi commissioner in the city markets, a recent survey shows.

Amid lack of serious price-checking efforts by the authorities, retailers and shopkeepers are continuing to fleece inflation-hit consumers.

Officials claim they do not have sufficient strength of staff in various districts to curb profiteering by retailers in the city.

A survey of markets shows that whether the price lists are displayed at the shops or not, it does not make any difference in prices for consumers.

Most consumers believe that like past years, the price-checking campaign is a ‘routine exercise’ of the city commissioner and his team which lack serious efforts to safeguard consumers’ interest.

Onion and potato, which are widely used throughout the year, are being sold at Rs250-260 and Rs80 per kg, respectively, as against the control rates of Rs184 and Rs63 per kg.

A few days back, consumers had paid up to Rs300 per kg for onion. Its prices come down slightly when the government decided to impose a ban on its exports last week.

A retailer was of the view that the price of onion should be around Rs150-200 per kg after the imposition of the ban. However, the middleman in the wholesale market is not letting this to happen, due to high demand of onion in the holy month.

President of Falahi Anjuman Wholesale Vegetable Market at Superhighway Haji Shahjehan claimed a drop in wholesale rate of good quality onion to Rs6,000 per 40kg from Rs8,000, while price of medium quality also plunged by Rs1,000-1,500 per maund to Rs4,000-4,500.

Pakistani onion has become the most sought-after item in Dubai and Far Eastern countries after the ban as Indian onion buyers have diverted to Pakistan.

Massive exports of onion have helped boost Pakistan’s overall vegetable exports to 171,586 tonnes fetching $75 million in February 2024, which prior to Indian ban on December 8 was 64,285 tonnes ($21.6mn) in November 2023.

According to exporters, onion and potato hold 90 per cent share of the country’s overall vegetable exports.

As potato exports usually pick up pace in March, onion shipments have made a big impact on export volume.

However, to control the huge outflow of onion, the government in mid-January 2024 raised the minimum export price (MEP) to $1,200 per tonne (FOB) from $750 but it failed to arrest the swelling export volumes.

Meanwhile, Afghani and Iranian onion arrived in Pakistan, but it also failed to stabilise prices as many exporters/traders also exported the imported onion due to huge demand in various countries.

Cabbage, capsicum and green onion — hot selling items of Ramazan for preparing various dishes — are selling at Rs200, Rs500-600 and Rs320 per kg as against their official rates of Rs86, Rs368 and Rs104 per kg, respectively.

Tomato prices were in the range of Rs150-200 per kg as against its official rate of Rs138 per kg.

Spinach is available at Rs80-100 per kg as against control rate of Rs40 per kg.

Green chilli official rate is Rs230 per kg, but it is selling at Rs320 per kg.

Fruit prices

In fruit, the price of banana hovers between Rs100 and 200 per dozen depending on their size despite a ban on its exports last week.

The official rates of No.1 and No.2 qualities of bananas are 155 and Rs168 per dozen.

It is ironic that in some areas, the official prices are higher than the prevailing retail rates.

Green and red apples are selling at Rs200-250 and Rs300 per kg as against the commissioner’s rate of Rs175 and Rs219 per kg.

Cheeko (sapodilla) and guava are available at Rs200 per kg each versus their official price of Rs130 and Rs161 per kg.

Chicken and milk rates

The official retail rates of live broiler and its meat is Rs386 and Rs598 per kg, but retailers do not hesitate to sell them at Rs420-460 per kg and Rs650-700 per kg respectively.

In loose milk, a spokesperson for the All Karachi Milk Retailers Welfare Association, Abdul Waheed Gaddi, said black marketing of milk had started in Lea Market during Ramazan following increase in loose milk wholesale rates to Rs200 per litre from the official rate of Rs188 per litre.

Dairy farmers and wholesalers run the Lea Market Milk Mandi.

He claimed that in some areas like Model Colony, Gulistan-i-Jauhar and North Karachi, some milk retailers, who are not association members, were selling loose milk at Rs210-230 per litre, challenging the order of the commissioner, while the officials had failed to ensure availability of milk at the wholesale rate of Rs188 per litre to retailers in the last six months.

He urged the commissioner to take notice of the increase in wholesale milk rates; otherwise, retailers would be forced to sell milk at Rs260 per litre ahead of Eidul Fitr.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2024

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