KARACHI: The recent surge in the price of vegetables has led to citizens asking the government to propose a cost-effective alternative, as once-economical vegetables are now unaffordable for many.
The crisis, which emerged over the past few weeks, has led to anger amongst citizens at the government for not maintaining a check on the prices at which retailers are selling vegetables.
According to the official list issued by the office of the Karachi commissioner, tomatoes are supposed to be sold at Rs138 per kilogramme (kg), however, consumers complain that the rate at which tomatoes are being sold has crossed the Rs200 mark in the city.
The official rate for onions is Rs75 per kg but in many areas it is being sold for almost double – Rs150 per kg. Green chillies are being sold at Rs170 per kg.
A resident, Anila, who is a housewife, said that both tomatoes and onions are essential cooking ingredients. She said she was rudely informed of the price change when a salesperson told her to buy tomatoes for Rs220 per kg or get lost. Almost all vendors in the area are selling tomatoes at the same rate, she said, adding that she was able to buy half a kg, as she could not afford the full kilogramme she wanted to buy.
Anila added that she asked a few salespersons about the official price but they shied away from answering and said the shortage of tomatoes and onions has increased the price.
An elderly man, Ghafoor Ahmed, who was shopping in a commercial market in Bahadurabad said citizens should boycott the purchase of vegetables to teach the vendors a lesson. I was against the earlier boycott that happened in Ramazan but now I have realised that these vendors are a greedy mafia, as all of them are looting people, he said.
Ahmed said that all types of meat are now far too costly for the common man and now he fears that a similar situation will emerge with vegetables. He said the government should tell the people if such situations are likely to occur, so that they will start considering eating grass.
The issue has become a topic of discussion on social media and many support the idea of a boycott if prices do not normalise within the next couple of days.
Vendor Ilahi Bakhsh said people may be cursing us but there is a real shortage in the supply of tomatoes and onions. He explained that this year there was a poor yield of onion crop in Balochistan and the heavy rainfall destroyed tomato and onion fields across the country.
Another reason for the price fluctuation is the tension at the Line of Control, which has resulted in the suspension of the supply of tomatoes and onions from India for the past year. In the past, shortages in the supply of vegetables were met by imports from India. Pakistan used to import more than 200,000 tons of tomatoes annually from India.
Sabzi Mandi Vice-Chairperson Asif Ahmed told The Express Tribune that very soon tomatoes from Sindh will be in the market and prices will start to decrease. He added that usually there is a high demand of tomatoes and onions in the Eidul Azha and Muharram seasons and predicted that prices will normalise in a week or so.
He said that this year rainfall destroyed the crop of tomatoes and onions in Balochistan, however, the issue will be resolved very soon after supply will be improved.
Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has taken notice of the skyrocketing prices and has directed the agriculture department to intervene by reducing the role of middlemen and control the prices.
In a statement issued by CM House, Shah said vegetables have become beyond the reach of poor people. “I feel it is an artificial price hike created by hoarders,” he said.
The chief minister directed Agriculture and Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal to personally inquire into the matter and intervene where necessary.
He said that Thatta and Sujawal districts produce early tomato crops, therefore arrangements should be made to bring tomatoes from the two districts to Karachi. “It seems as if the middlemen have also purchased the tomato crop in Thatta and Sujawal districts but this must be stopped,” said the chief minister.
He also urged the agriculture department to take necessary measures to regulate the price of others vegetables, which are the only source of food for the poor people. The commissioners, deputy commissioners and market committees must play their roles to control artificial price hike, he said, ordering the arrest of hoarders and others who created the artificial price hike.
Karachi Commissioner Ejaz Ahmed Khan said that he has directed all the deputy commissioners to make sure the retailers are following the official price list.
He said necessary action should be taken against those selling vegetables at increased rates. Khan said that prices have started to decrease and soon the situation will be back to normal.