Peshawar: Zakaullah, a young man from lower middle class, finds it difficult to make both ends meet in the holy month of Ramzan as grocery prices go through the ceiling. This year though, Zakaullah and others of modest means like him, have to face a double jeopardy:  Spike in prices of edibles and no sasta bazaars to blunt the edge of inflation in Ramzan.

A true sasta bazaar or discount market that sells groceries at controlled prices, set up by authorities during Ramzan to ease the pressure of price hike on consumers, has become something of a myth because shopkeepers still rip off consumers, says Zakaullah. But this year even that is not available to public.

“It has become something of a tradition that prices of edibles go up exponentially in Ramzan,” Zakaullah told News Lens Pakistan. “It’s worse this year because I cannot find a sasta bazaar in the city to buy food at an affordable price for my family for iftaar (breakfast).”

Every year, traders increase prices of fruits, vegetables, meat and groceries in the month of Ramzan in view of the rise in demand. While provincial and district governments elsewhere have set up sasta bazaars, for the second year running Peshawar has not had any. In a press release on June 13, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League criticised the Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for not arranging sasta bazaars during Ramzan.

The press release said people were forced to buy necessary items at higher prices because there was no check on profiteers. For people with little income like Zakaullah, inflation means going without proper food and other essentials as the city administration fails to enforce official prices of fruits, vegetables and groceries and other edibles.

Ramzan is the ninth month of Islamic calendar, observed as a month of fasting by Muslims worldwide. The demand for edibles – fruits, meat, vegetables, and groceries – witness a sharp surge during Ramzan.

“The authorities do little in response [to price hike] except occasional visits to markets suggesting that they are monitoring prices,” said Zakaullah. ““These visits are just eyewash. They just want to appear on media, looking good while providing little by way of relief to people.”

He said the authorities claimed to have controlled prices and implemented official rates but people throughout the district were seen complaining on media about failure of authorities to check profiteers.

According to the spokesman to district government in Peshawer, Feroz Shah, it is not the job of district government but the district administration to check prices and set up sasta bazaars in Ramzan.

“The Ramzan sasta bazaars are meant to provide groceries at lower rates but this year, the district administration is making it possible at every market by keeping a strict check over shopkeepers,” Sajid Khan, spokesperson for the district administration, told News Lens on telephone.

Despite these claims, there is little evidence of price control as fruit and vegetable sellers have their own reasons for increasing prices.

Mehrab Shinwari, a fruit vendor at sabzi mandi (vegetable market) near Shahi Bagh in Peshawar, said public outcry about inflation was justified but sellers could do little to provide relief. He said hoarding of market items by wholesalers and auctioning of groceries at sabzi mandi at high rates in Ramzan were the main reasons for soaring prices.

“If vendors and shopkeepers get fruit and vegetables at high rates, how could we sell them for affordable prices?” said Shinwari.

He said many a time, they receive crates and sacks containing rotten vegetables and fruit and they have to compensate their loss by increasing prices.

Food controller Tasbeehullah said in order to implement controlled official rates, they were carrying out regular “raids” at different markets, arresting and fining dozens of violators.

“So far, 86 violators, hoarders and those selling substandard items have been arrested or fined,” said Tasbeehullah.

Sajid Khan, the spokesperson for district administration, said magistrates (assistant commissioners) in Peshawar district were conducting pre-dawn raids at different markets, without any protocol and in plain clothes to appear as customers.

“The purpose is to make the price control operation more effective,” said Khan. “These plain-clothes pre-dawn raids are happening for the first time in the district.”

He said that so far hundreds of those “fleecing” customers by violating the official pricelist, hoarding and selling substandard items had been arrested or fined.

However, Saad Ali, a customer at Nothia bazaar told News Lens that lack of coordination between officials of food department, district government and police was the reason why their raids were not effective.

“They should conduct regular raids with proper follow up to see if if shopkeepers stick to the controlled pricelist provided by authorities,” he said.


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