FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 08

Unaffordable vegetables

The prices of vegetables have gone out of the reach of the common man after massive devaluation of the rupee and a persistent hike in electricity and gas tariff. Rising fuel prices on a monthly basis are also contributing to it. The 14 months of the government have only piled misery on the people and they have reached the conclusion that it has no qualms about overburdening them and leaving them at the mercy of profiteers and hoarders.

The rates of essentials, clothes and footwear have almost doubled in the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The people were somehow coping with the situation when prices of all vegetables have skyrocketed, which made their lives more difficult. The price of tomatoes hit a record high in all major cities in November and reached Rs400 per kilogram. The prices of all vegetables have increased by 48pc to 1300pc in a year due to flaw in policies and a weak price control mechanism.

The rising prices have also put pressure on the government as Prime Minister Imran Khan has formed a special cell for integrated planning on demand and supply of essential commodities to control their prices. Hoarders and profiteers are benefitting from inaction by the provincial governments. The highest increase in prices was witnessed in tomato rates which increased by over 1300pc. Its official price was Rs30 per kg only last year. Its official rate is Rs200/kg, but it is selling at over Rs400. Tomato prices increased after the crop was damaged by rains in Sindh. Onion and tomato produce was badly hit due to unexpected rains in late September and October.

The second highest increase of 271pc was recorded in onion rates, which reached Rs78 per kg from the last year price of Rs21 while it is sold at Rs100 per kg. If compared with the consumer price, the increase is about 376pc. The official price of garlic was Rs95 per kg a year ago but it has reached Rs300 per kg. Ginger was selling at Rs190 per kg last year, which has now reached Rs325 to Rs400 per kg. Green chilli was sold at Rs60 per kg last year, but its price is Rs200 now. Capsicum was Rs70 per kg last year, but has reached Rs225 to Rs280. Ladyfinger has reached Rs80 to 100 per kg from last year’s Rs50 per kg. The official price of potato was Rs37 per kg which has jumped to Rs70 per kg.

Meanwhile, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) left the interest rate unchanged at 13.25pc to prevent food inflation from further increasing. “The decision reflected the Monetary Policy Committee’s view that recent developments have had offsetting implications for the inflation outlook,” the central bank said in a policy statement. “On the one hand, recent inflation outturns have been on the higher side. On the other, the causes behind these outturns have primarily been increases in food prices which are expected to be temporary.” It said the inflation, based on the new index, had risen by 11pc year-on-year and 1.8pc month-on-month in October 2019. “These outturns, especially recent month-on-month outturns, were somewhat higher than expectations but largely reflected upward adjustments in administered prices and rise in prices of food items primarily due to temporary supply disruptions,” the statement said. The SBP’s projection for average inflation for FY2020 remained broadly unchanged at 11-12pc.

The devaluation of the rupee by almost 33pc and a constant rise in international oil prices forced the government to increase fuel rates. Higher fuel prices mean a surge in rates of food, because diesel and petrochemical-made fertiliser are used to grow it and petrol and diesel are used to transport it. Electricity costs also jump because furnace oil is used by most power generation plants. Prices of vegetables and fruits increase as power bills of agriculture tube-wells swell.

In the absence of an effective price control mechanism, rates of all essential commodities, including fruit and vegetables, have jacked up and the government’s threats of crackdown on profiteers prove hollow claims. Prices of all essentials had already gone through the roof when the government was finalising the Ramazan package. The price of sugar rose from Rs65 per kg to a new retail peak of Rs70. The price of sugar stood at Rs55 per kilo at the beginning of the year and rose to Rs58-60 per kilo in February, while in March it was sold at Rs63 in retail markets. Prices of all fruit and vegetables had increased by 50pc to 100pc, weeks before the beginning of Ramazan. Profiteering and overcharging are rampant in all markets but the provincial governments have failed to take effective measures.

Consumer prices, influenced by faster rupee depreciation and hike in energy prices, increased to their highest level in five years in March, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. Inflation, measured through the Consumer Price Index (CPI), surged to 9.4pc in March 2019, the period when global oil prices started rising, undermining earlier gains in the country. In few months, prices of vegetables, fruit and meat have posted persistent increase in major urban centres.

The common people feel they are bearing the brunt of poor economic policies and immature decisions of the government. They say the artificial price hike is the worst example of bad governance. They question the utility of so-called public representatives, who cannot even develop an efficient price control system. It is a general impression among the people that senior government officials, ministers and advisers, responsible for controlling and monitoring prices of essential commodities, visit markets and bazaars with their official photographers for photo opportunities only.

Experts say the price pressure has overburdened poor families. It is feared that the people will have to tighten their belts further, as inflation spikes and families have to make hard choices between putting enough food on the table and giving their children a decent education. For those lower down the economic ladder, the situation is even more serious. The federal and provincial governments should adopt an effective mechanism to check prices if they aim to provide relief to people.