As per the historical pattern, the prices of essential items begin to inch upwards around two weeks before Ramazan. It is unfortunate that the holy month is seen by some unscrupulous traders as an opportunity for making undue profits. All over the country, in anticipation of and during the period of fasting, prices of daily essentials are raised in order to fleece a helpless public. Whether it is fruit, vegetables, meat or other staple commodities, unjustifiable price hikes seem to peak around the time of Eid.
When the holy month starts, the government tries to control prices through administrative action.
According to media reports, last week authorities in Karachi held a special meeting to formulate a strategy to contain profiteering during Ramazan. At the meeting, it was decided that stern action would be taken against all those involved in making unfair profits. Price control bodies were asked to stay vigilant in their respective areas and conduct raids regularly to check whether official price lists were being observed or not by the shopkeepers.
But experience shows that such exercises are a shot in the dark. Delayed and half hearted administrative measures remain ineffective as increased rates do not come down to pre-Ramazan levels. Ideally, the administrative steps for price control should continue in full gear throughout the year, so that no one can dare create an artificial price hike on special occasions. If this is not possible for any reason, authorities should at least go for strict implementation of the price control mechanism by issuing approved rate lists at least one month before, so that no artificial price hike affects the people in the holy month.
In the given situation, the role of price control officials is crucial. They can stop overcharging by taking strong penal action against price sharks, hoarders and black marketers. They should especially come down hard on those who create artificial shortages. In Punjab, a large number of Ramazan bazaars have been established for provision of essential items at discounted rates. Fair price shops have also been set up in each bazaar where items, including fruits, vegetables, pulses, dates and rice, are available at wholesale rates. But media reports show that few shopkeepers observe the official price list. Price magistrates are supposed to conduct price checking raids but they are not generally seen in action. On way to control the situation is to ensure the prominent display of price lists at all markets and shopping areas which should be monitored regularly by elected representatives. Along with administrative action, arrangements should also be made to augment the supply of the edible items in high demand during Ramazan.
Market manipulation is a growing menace in the country. Prices of essential items as well as other goods are jacked up regularly by creating artificial shortages. It is a real and pressing problem - one that affects the average citizen on a daily basis. Plans are made to fight hoarding and price sharking, but they are hardly implemented. The reality is that for the common citizens badly hit by spiralling commodity prices, inflation, and the inaccessibility of goods, the latest rise in food-related expenditures during Ramazan is like the last straw on the camel's back. In these circumstances, greater efforts need to be made to provide some relief to a harassed public. This is a serious issue and it calls for urgent attention from the authorities concerned.