Panel to study sugar pricing an eye-wash

Kathmandu, October 15

Following mounting criticism on sugar price hike close to the festive season, the government had formed a committee led by a member of the National Planning Commission (NPC) to resolve the issue. However, the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers (OPMCM) has not yet corresponded with the convener and members of the panel.

The Cabinet meeting on October 7 decided to form a committee to resolve the dispute on sugar pricing and appointed Dil Bahadur Gurung, member of apex planning body, as convener of panel.

It has already been nine days and the Dashain vacation is set to begin from Tuesday. However, the OPMCM has not yet corresponded with the panel, which should have been promptly informed based on the gravity and sensitivity of the issue. Talking to The Himalayan Times, NPC Member Gurung said that he has not received the terms of reference (ToR) from the OPMCM. “I was aware about my appointment as convener of panel through media reports, but I haven’t been apprised about the appointment by the government,” he reiterated.

The panel formed by the government comprises seven members, including cane growers, sugar mills, representatives from organisations that are involved in protection of consumer rights, and officials of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies and Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development.

Meanwhile, it looks like the government is not very serious about maintaining the price of sugar at the rate negotiated with the sugar mill owners before the quantitative restriction on sugar import was imposed. The government imposed the quantitative restriction on imports close to the festive season, and as a result, the sugar mills and those that have stocks of imported sugar are hiking the retail price arbitrarily. However, the government has turned a deaf ear to the plight of the consumers.

In a recent development, Minister of Industry, Commerce and Supplies Matrika Prasad Yadav publicly refused to execute the retail price of sugar at Rs 63 per kg as instructed by the Public Accounts Committee of the Legislature-Parliament. Minister Yadav said that his ministry will monitor and make sure the retail price of sugar is kept at Rs 70 a kg in fair price shops that have been set up to correct the market price, which could rise during the festive season due to increasing demand of consumable goods.

Following this incident, there has been a rift between the government and parliamentary panel. Both have formed a committee each to study and recommend how the dispute on sugar pricing could be resolved. The PAC sub-committee led by lawmaker Lekh Raj Bhatta has already submitted a report to the PAC pointing at the anomalies and strong nexus between government, sugar mill owners and importers behind the price hike of sugar.

“The government has enticed the sugar mills and importers who have stocks of sugar to hike the price by imposing quantitative restriction on import, which is the only way to correct the market price,” said lawmaker Bhatta. The panel formed by the PAC has recommended an investigation on the issue by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). The probe panel has said that sugar worth Rs 1.69 billion will be sold during the festive season. It is reported that sugar mills and importers have raised sugar price by Rs 20 to Rs 25 per kg following the quantitative restriction on sugar import.

Lawmakers have commented that the government’s decision to conduct a study on sugar pricing is just an eye-wash and the government is not serious about controlling the rampant hike in price. “The government has been exposed on how it has been protecting the interest of the sugar mills and sugar importers,” said Bhatta.