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Effective price control mechanisms should be devised and enforced for the common man

The state is responsible to provide basic necessities of life and also to ensure the availability of food and easy access to food to people as well. Article 38 (d) of the Constitution of Pakistan says, “The State shall provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief, for all citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment”.

But the situation is different on the ground. Like other things the government is not following its constitution. There is no such set-up of providing finances to sick, permanently disabled and unemployed. On the other hand, the increasing food inflation has made it difficult for the remaining poor of the country to afford a secure meal, as the basic food items have gone beyond their purchasing power.

Food security exists when, at all times, all people, have social, physical and economic access to sufficient, nutritious and safe food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for a healthy and active life. In the 1974 World Food Summit, food security was defined for the first time as: “Availability at all times of adequate world food supplies of basic foodstuffs to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices”. The concept of food security was further detailed in terms of: “Access of all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”.

Food security has two components — food availability and access to food. Food availability is attained when sufficient quantities of food are always available to all people of the country. Access to food is ensured when all the people of country have enough economic resources to acquire food, which can meet their dietary needs and nutritional requirements.

Talking about Islamabad, for instance, the city government Islamabad has organised weekly Sasta bazaars on different days of the week, i.e., Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday in all the areas of Islamabad, trying to give relief to poor people. The city government issues price list to the vendors in these bazaars. This is a good initiative but it is losing its purpose as vendors in different bazaars are not compliant to the price lists.

People throng here to buy some households and grocery at economical prices. But, now as the bulk of the goods are purchased by the local vendors, rather than the retail customers, prices are close to the ordinary bazaar. The vendors of these bazaars sell way beyond the notified prices.

The vendors profit is twofold as they pay rent for setting up a shop here. For a whole day they pay just 25 rupees per eight square feet plot as rent. They have their own justification of high prices, i.e. nowadays the prices are high in Sabzi Mandi Islamabad from where we purchase commodities to sell. Increasing fuel prices are the main causes of selling commodities on high prices.

The poor people who buy commodities from these bazaars are of the view that prices of local food items are increasing day-by-day — vegetables, fruit etc. There is no such difference of prices here and in other markets. Administration fixes the prices according to its own will.

The city government claim they have a system of check and balance in place, and the rates of commodities are reasonable. But actually, this system exists only on paper and the vendors of these bazaars do not care about pricelists issued by the city government. These vendors have been given concession on rent in the name of low prices and public interest, but the city government fails to keep the prices reasonable and unable to fulfill its primary purpose i.e. giving relief to poor people of the country.

For ensuring availability and easy access to food to the poor people, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture should take a few urgent steps at the federal level. It should constitute a committee for all bazaars, hire local vendors, and all the members of the committee and the vendors should be paid a monthly salary.

The roles of a committee could be buying all the commodities from farmers and place them for selling purpose in these bazaars, having check and balance on vendors, and lastly, collection of the money of sold commodities from all vendors at the end of the day and deposit all the amount in the ministry’s bank account.

With this devised set up, the price hike due to middle man role, profit of vendors and private transportation charges will be controlled.

The writer is based in Islamabad

This article was originally published at: The News

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.