Hike In Essentials’ Prices: Crooked Traders Out To Cash In On Ramadan

‘Highway closure and Cross-LoC suspension hit essentials’ stock’

Kashmir Magazine

Hamid Rather

Jammu and Kashmir has emerged as the consumption hub for imports from others states ranging from consumer goods to investment goods making the state vulnerable to market fluctuations and unscrupulous hoarding as is evident from the prices of essentials sky-rocketing with the onset of Ramadhan in Kashmir despite tall promises by Governor-led administration that price of essentials would not rise, a section of unscrupulous wholesalers and retailers have yet again begun charging people more for those.

Mutton, chicken, grocery items including onion, garlic and sugar as well as other vegetables and fruits are being sold for higher prices in markets across the valley. Recently, the administration claimed that both the stock and supply of the goods at the markets would be adequate and there would be no such hike ahead of Ramadan. The closure of Highway due to landslide and banning of cross-LoC trade have a direct bearing on the stock as well the price mechanism driven by law of demand and supply. Apart from these two factors, the hoarding and unscrupulous wholesalers are also responsible for price-hike in essentials in Ramadhan in Kashmir.

Market insiders are of the view that although there were enough stocks, a nexus of dishonest wholesalers and retailers have created illegal, profit-mongering syndicates which are charging extra for the items. In this situation, it is the people, especially those from the low and middle classes, who are suffering the most.

In the last few days from the beginning of Ramadhan, this correspondent visited at least five markets and dozens of grocery stores in Batamaloo, Pattan, Sopore, Baramulla, and Pulwama areas and found that most of the Ramadan essentials were dearer there.

Market sources said that from the beginning of Ramadhan, the price per kg of mutton went up by Rs 60, chicken by Rs 20, sugar by Rs 10, garlic by Rs 10, potato by Rs 10 and the prices of fish, beef, fruits and vegetables have hiked too.

“I bought a kilogram of mutton for Rs 500 and watermelon for Rs 50. Before Ramadhan, they were Rs 450 and Rs 30 respectively,” said Mohmmad Siraj, a banker, at Pattan market on Sunday.
While buying essentials for his family in Sopore Market, Shafiq Ahmad, a businessman, said prices of such goods usually soar with the onset of Ramadan, when the demand increases manifold.

The middle and low income families are facing problems in buying the essentials at exorbitantly high rates. Shameema Begum, wife of an auto-rickshaw driver, expressed her helplessness to the soaring prices of essentials during the holy month. She said, “Our income is meager. So we have to eat less and make adjustments to our food habits”.

Market analysts maintain that such [price] hikes are normal during Ramadan in face of increased demand but they are not recognizing the unscrupulous activities of the wholesaler dealers who are selling at high prices to vendors.

Vendors placed the blame on wholesalers who are selling them goods at a higher price and they only adjust the price to earn profit. While digging the wholesale price of the essentials in Kashmir, it is learnt that highway closure and suspension of cross LoC trade have created bottlenecks in the stock and increased demand for least stock of Ramadhan essentials. Eventually in this situation, the application of law of demand and supply has inflated the prices of Ramadhan essentials.

No Rate List

During the visits to the markets, this correspondent did not see a single updated price chart, supposed to be maintained by the wholesalers and retailers. Besides, there was hardly any chart with product prices hanging in front from grocery stores.
While inquiring about the same from Chairman, Traders Association Pattan, Sajad Qadri, this correspondent learnt that traders do not show the behaviour as the law and rules demands and in the absence of the price charts they are forcing customers to buy goods at the rates they want to sell. Irony is that when this correspondent visited some Fair Price Shops (FPS) to see the availability of food items for the locals he did not found price charts in any of the FPS in Pattan area.

Contacted, Mohammad Qasim Wani, Director of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Kashmir, said they would discuss the issue of price chart soon and asked the relevant people to update them timely.

Divisional Commissioner Intervention

Taking serious note of reports regarding price hike of essential commodities during the holy month of Ramzan, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Baseer Ahmad Khan, directed department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs (FCS & CA) and Legal Metrology to start intense market checking across the city on daily basis and take strict action against profiteers and black marketers who are selling meat on exorbitant rates.
For effective implementation of the order he required that Additional Deputy Commissioner Srinagar and other concerned officers to send daily report to his office with details of market checking along with names of profiteers and black marketers and action taken against them.

The intervention from the office of Divisional Commissioner to curb the exorbitant prices of the essentials should not be confined to the holy month of Ramadhan itself but round the calendar so that lower and middle income families can live comfortable life.

Closure of Highway

The price hike of essentials is also determined by the plying of traffic on national highway (NH-44), the lifeline of the valley. The highway connecting Kashmir with Jammu is frequently closed due to the landslides causing loss of the value of crores of rupees. Recently, the closure of highway for two days due to the landslide at Digdol area of Ramban district have stranded more than 150 trucks containing essentials like goats, lambs, chickens, etc. It is estimated that in each truck about 20 livestock have died and caused huge losses to mutton dealers. The stranding of trucks carrying livestock and essentials on Highway has created deficient stocks leading to increased demand and eventually higher prices. Moreover a tendency has been seen in Mutton or perishable dealers to hike prices to compensate for the losses in the highway closure.

Suspension of Cross-LoC

The Central government’s decision to suspend trade across the Line of Control (LoC) between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on April 18 at the two designated points at Salamabad and Chakan-da-Bagh, citing concerns about “illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency” being transported into India has many implications with immediate being the scarcity in the essentials. The products like pickle, honey, almonds, etc from Pakistan-administered Kashmir were in huge demand in India-administered Kashmir. The reasons of transportation of illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency, violation of zero-traffic barter arrangement could have been solved by strict enforcement of the rules and not suspension of exchange of goods that has put at risk the livelihood of countless people on both sides of the LoC. At a protest in Srinagar against the trade suspension, for instance, a leader of the cross-LoC traders association argued that they had, in fact, themselves been seeking a “foolproof mechanism” to enforce the terms of the agreement.
The benefits to the local economies from the cross-LoC trade are beyond doubt. It is estimated that since the barter trade commenced along two routes across the LoC in October 2008, employment to the order of more than 1.6 lakh days had been created. The volume of trade over the decade has crossed Rs 6,000 crore. It must be kept in mind that the trade is mostly of local goods, and those employed, including in the transportation, are from border communities.
The current suspension comes in the course of a shrill election campaign that the ruling BJP is relentlessly pulling towards its hard line on subjects such as Article 370 on the special status of J&K. The government has sent unsettling signals by closing the National Highway between Udhampur and Baramulla to civilian traffic for two days a week to secure the movement of troop convoys. To now summarily suspend LoC trade is to invite suspicion that the step has been taken without careful consideration of the consequences and also for political reasons.

Dependency Syndrome

From consumer behaviour perspective, Kashmir is suffering from a disease which bids fair to play havoc with us which is called ‘dependency syndrome’. Kashmir has become a consumption hub for imports from others states ranging from consumer goods to investment goods making the state vulnerable to the market fluctuations and unscrupulous hoarding as is evident from the prices of essentials sky-rocketing with the onset of Ramadhan in Kashmir despite tall promises by the Governor-led administration that price of essentials would not rise, a section of unscrupulous wholesalers and retailers have yet again begun charging people more for those. The agricultural land is encroached and production of rice, vegetables and milk has largely dwindled in the Kashmir valley since last decade. State is one amongst the largest meat consumption states in the country and according to official records Jammu and Kashmir consumed 4.7 crore Kgs in 2016-17 alone out of which more than 3.2 crore Kgs were achieved from local production and the rest imported from other states. Out of the 10.24 lakh animals supplied to the state in 2016-17, 9.79 lakh sheep and goat were supplied to Kashmir Valley and 45,075 animals from outside mandis to Jammu division. In addition, as per the government report, J&K consumed 121 crore eggs during financial year 2016-17 out of which 42 crore were locally produced. The state also witnessed 7.4 crore kgs consumption of chicken out of which 6 crore kgs were from the local production. It is evident from the above statistics that the political leaders and policy makers have not given due considerations to the local productions of livestock and production of rice, vegetables and fruits to take the state from this dependency morass to self-sufficiency.