THE outgoing year 2017, as many came to describe it as a horrible year for consumers, especially from the fixed- and low-income groups, has only brought to the fore the government’s failures in monitoring the market as traders and importers made whatever they could cashing in on the situation. There have been a 30 per cent increase in rice prices this year alone, as rights campaigners and market experts say, and a more than 200 per cent increase in onion prices, apart from seasonal increase in prices of salt, spices, garlic and edible oil amidst soaring gas and power prices effected by the government. Only the increase in rice prices has pushed, as New Age reported on Thursday quoting from a study of the South Asian Network on Economic Modelling which was released on December 23, more than 5,00,000 people into poverty, increasing the head count poverty by 0.32 percentage points in the past few months. The price spiral on the local commodity market has left a half of the country’s population living on less than $3 income to struggle mostly throughout the year to buy food items which accounts for 70 per cent of their daily income, cutting down their expenses on health and education expenditure.
Market experts and rights defenders all have put such a sorry state down to the government’s failure in market monitoring, the manipulation of the market by vested interests and the government’s failure to take any action in this regard. Consumers will keep suffering, as they did in the outgoing year, in the next year too, if the state-owned oversight agencies fail to function properly. The commerce minister, who came to be severely criticised because of goods price increase, however, sought to explain that 14 state-owned agencies were monitoring the local market and a further tightened oversight of buying and selling prices of imported products could roll into an adverse situation. He is also reported to have said that traders’ associations were ‘very powerful’ and they might ‘stop selling products.’ This should be no excuse coming from a minister as no association should be more powerful than the government. This all lends credence to the popular perception that the government runs in a rich-friendly way, ignoring the sufferings that the citizens face. The government’s delayed decision on the import of rice against the backdrop of food grain reserve in public depots depleting has also been blamed, by experts, for the situation at hand.
The government, under the circumstances, has no option but to strictly monitor the commodity market and make intervention, when and where necessary, to keep prices within the reach of ordinary citizens. The Competition Commission, set up in 2016 to ensure fair trade practice and check against manipulated price increase of goods, having done almost nothing to improve the situation has been no less to blame. Alongside stepping up its efforts in market monitoring, the government must also arm up the Competition Commission adequately enough to do what is mandated to do to make life easy for the citizens.
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