Govt, private sector face-off to linger

KATHMANDU: The tussle between the government and the businessmen over supply and pricing of essential commodities is likely to last longer than assumed. The government started market intervention last week after the price of food grains— mainly pulses— hit an all-time high.

The District Administration Office (DAO) raided 13 godowns of three businessmen Kumud Dugar, Pawan Bansal and Pawan Agrawal on Saturday under Black Marketing and Certain Other Social Offences Act, 1978. Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce (DoC) became active in implementation of the price-list (wholesale and retail) in retail shops of Kathmandu. DoC sealed five shops, one in Kalimati and four in New Baneshwor area-under the Consumer Protection Act, 1998 Section 12.

Business communities were angered to the extent that they decided to protest the action. Nepal Chambers of Commerce (NCC) objected saying the government was meddling in market economy.

NCC president Surendra Bir Malakar urged the government to stop intervention. “It is a conspiracy,” he said while meeting minister for Commerce and supplies Rajendra Mahato. “The government wants to establish that all businessmen are black marketeers.”

However, government officials say they are committed to reduce the prices at any cost. Adulteration and artificial price hike has forced the government to intervene in the market, said Prushottam Ojha, secretary of the Ministry of Commerce and Supply. “If business people were transparent and responsible, the government would not have resorted to it,” he said.

Said Department of Commerce Director Kailash Kumar Bajimaya, “Our studies have shown that the market is influenced by the artificial price hike through hoarding.” According to Bajimaya, the raid conducted by the DAO was targeted at the black marketeers and DoC’s price-list campaign is to educate the consumers. He urged the retailers to take the DoC action as a soft-action and support the campaign. “There is no harm done to the shopkeepers because they have to display their own price list,” he said.

Meanwhile, the DAO inspected the sealed warehouses on Tuesday. The office has made an inventory of the stored commodities and asked the businessmen to prove that the storage did not constitute hoarding.

“We have asked their import/purchase papers, custom papers, value added tax (VAT) papers and general account,” said Surendra Prasad Paudel, administrative officer adding that they have a week to prove their innocence.

Consumer rights groups want more action. “Big businessmen are behind the skyrocketing price hike,” said Ram Chandra Simkhada, general secretary of Consumer Rights Protection Forum (CRPF).

Shopkeepers have got an extra week’s time to display price-list from Tuesday. Will the consumers benefit?