LAHORE: After deciding not to set up Ramazan Bazaars this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Punjab government is considering various proposals for providing relief to the people during the month through targeted disbursement of subsidy.
Punjab Industries Minister Mian Aslam Iqbal has indicated that the government is likely to announce Rs8 billion to Rs12 billion subsidy under Ramazan package after approval from the provincial cabinet.
Although various proposals are under consideration, the government has not yet finalised modalities of the Ramzan package. Besides the provincial government’s targeted relief package for the holy month, the federal government has already announced a Rs7 billion package to support the poor strata of the society. In addition, Prime Minister Imran Khan has also approved the allocation of Rs10 billion to ensure smooth supply of essential commodities at subsidised rates through the Utility Stores Corporation (USC). Last year, the provincial government had set up 309 Ramazan bazaars and 2,000 dastarkhawan set-ups where food was served to the needy during the month.
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In a meeting with the industries minister the other day, Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar underscored that deserving people will be provided direct monetary aid during Ramazan. He asserted that indiscriminate stern action will be taken against hoarders and profiteers in the prevailing untoward situation.
The chief minister said no one will be allowed to exploit the people. “Those looting the people for getting undue profit will find themselves behind the bars. The artificial increase in the prices of fruit, vegetables and other essential commodities will not be tolerated,” he warned.
Buzdar also instructed the officials concerned to regularly monitor prices and quality of essential commodities and said no negligence will be tolerated with regard to implementation of the price control mechanism.
Meanwhile, leaders of trade associations, Faisalabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry and car dealers called on the industries minister to highlight their problems.
The representatives said the prolonged lockdown has broken the back of small traders and businessmen.
They proposed that the government should allow opening of different markets on alternate days.
A trade body of superstore and retail chain stores owners has also demanded permission to keep their businesses open till 10pm during Ramazan. They pointed out that small traders and their workers had been hit hard as a result of the closure of markets.
A superstore owner, Sheikh Zaheer, said the business community has invested billions of rupees to maintain inventories for Ramazan, but the partial lockdown has created huge problems for them.
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A group of other business leaders called on Lahore Chamber of Commerce and industry (LCCI) President Irfan Iqbal Sheikh and asked him to persuade the government to allow the opening of markets till 10pm. They pointed out that people generally come out of their homes after Iftar during Ramazan. The government’s decision to close all markets at 5pm will impact their businesses negatively as all markets would be closed after Iftar.
The LCCI president assured the business leaders that he would take up their concern with the government because normal functioning of trade and industry is necessary for revival of the economy.
The traders’ representatives also gave an assurance that they will take all precautionary measures as advised by the government and maintain social distancing while running their businesses.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2020.