PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court on Thursday disposed of a petition against hikes in the prices of essential commodities and their hoarding in the province and directed the provincial government to take strict action against profiteers and hoarders.

A bench consisting of Justice Shakeel Ahmad and Justice Sahibzada Asadullah pronounced that it would issue directives to the government and administrative officers on the matter in the detailed judgement of the case, and action would be taken against the violators of those directives.

It observed that there was a need for dealing with those involved in price hikes and hoarding with an iron hand and handing down exemplary punishments to them.

The petition was filed by Peshawar resident Malik Ahmad Javed, who requested the court to direct the federal and KP governments as well as deputy commissioners in the province to immediately act against profiteers and hoarders, who, he insisted, were violating the law by not following the price lists issued by the government for essential commodities.

Warns violators of its orders will face action

Advocate general Shah Faisal Uthmankhel represented the provincial government, while lawyer Abbas Khan Sangeen appeared for the petitioner.

Special secretary to the home department Zubair Ahmad, food director Yasir Hussain, officials of the KP Food Safety and Halal Food Authority, and others appeared in the case.

During the hearing, Justice Shakeel observed that if the provincial government was serious about tackling the issue, it had to increase the powers of the administrative officers.

It added that price hikes and lawlessness had increased since the powers of the deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners were reduced.

The judge observed that those adulterating consumer goods were not only violating Islamic teachings but the laws of the land as well.

The bench observed that the DC no longer had the power to order the police to provide security personnel during raids for checking the prices of essential commodities.

AG Shah Faisal Uthmankhel said the government, in accordance with the order of the court, had submitted two progress reports on the matter.

He claimed that 9,237 market inspections had so far been conducted, whereas fines to the tune of Rs12.3 million were imposed on and recovered from profiteers.

The bench observed that mere fines won’t make law violators mend their ways, as they knew they would be back to work after paying the nominal fine.

It added that in the past, a single magistrate had been controlling the prices of commodities in the provincial capital as he had enough powers to take action against law violators.

The AG said the government had also been contemplating increasing the powers of the administrative officers.

He said if the high court issued orders for legislation on the matter, then the government would look into it.

The bench wondered why the government had been leaving every issue to the court for resolution instead of taking corrective steps by itself.

Special secretary Zubair said the price review committees had regularly been conducting their meetings.

He said last month, the home department issued detailed instructions to secretaries of all relevant departments, deputy commissioners and other relevant officers for the enforcement of official rates of essential goods.

Mr Zubair said the administrative officers had been instructed to drastically increase the overall volume of inspections of shops and sale points, take strict action against all those involved in illegal practices, and propose changes in various legal instruments that were being implemented by them in this regard.

Justice Asadullah observed that the bench would look into the reports submitted by the government and if they’re not found satisfactory, the court could review the situation yet again.

Advocate Abbas Khan said the administrative officers should ensure that all shopkeepers, retailers, and service providers display the notified price lists for all essential items on their premises and service-providing units to avoid any inconvenience to the people.

He claimed that while price lists were issued by the administration, they had not been followed by the shopkeepers.

Lawyer Akhtar Hussain Awan appeared for the Fresh Milk Sellers Association and said the association had requested the government to sit down with it to ascertain prices of dairy products, including milk and yogurt, but the latter didn’t accept the request.

Justice Shakeel observed that the toxic chemical Formalin was mixed with milk.

An official of the FSHFA said the authority had been using modern instruments to test milk and destroyed adulterated milk on the spot.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2024

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