Prices in Ramzan

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Skyrocketing grocery prices are an unfortunate reality for Pakistanis in the run-up to every Ramzan. There is just no escaping that. Sandwiched between greedy businessmen, licking their lips at the onset of the open season and the macroeconomic impact of coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns, the poor have nowhere to go. Already trying to juggle household expenses on a shoestring, the question as to how the majority of Pakistanis will manage to put food on their table is a sixty-four-million dollar one. And a heart-wrenching one, at that.
Now, the present government cannot be blamed for the perpetual predatoriness of retailers. Forever leaving blame at the door of government mismanagement, these market players are known for charging exorbitant rates with no regard for official price lists while also fuelling artificial shortages of certain products to justify their means. However, it is simply shameful that meat, pulses, vegetables and fruit rountinely fall victim to their wrath. To top it off, wholesalers and retailers are having a ball of a time by adding surcharges to the recently-hiked prices. There has been around a 25 percent increase in the price of fruit and vegetable. Last month, the price of chicken had increased by nearly nine percent and pulse gram by nearly 2.4 percent. The same uptick applied to ghee, whose rate has inched upwards by Rs 7 per kilo. The star player in this bonanza has been sugar, which is being sold for up to Rs 110 per kilo in different parts of the country. We have witnessed this dismal trend over the last few years.
But the fact that the Ramzan price spiral is not a new phenomenon cannot be used as an excuse to remain complacent. With the suspension of bachat bazaars due to the pandemic, merely extending the timings of utility stores cannot do the needful. As per the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, inflation in the country reached a seven-month high in March. Add this to the holy month bonus and we have the perfect recipe for a public disaster.
Rising to the occasion, Islamabad would do well to invest in effective control mechanisms so that all exploitative practices can be nipped in the bud. The government’s Ehsaas payments and Ramzan ration programmes are noteworthy efforts. The upcoming month also sees many compassionate individuals partaking in generous iftar and hamper drives to help those in need. But such a small trickle cannot fill millions of bellies, regardless of how noble the cause may be. Nothing burns the hearts of the poor like hunger and in such stressing times, they are counting on their government to stand beside them. After all, no inflation should be allowed to hinder anyone from practising such a crucial tenet of their faith.