Valley residents concerned by dwindling food supply as lockdown lengthensThe general public is having a hard time getting food to feed their families.
Concern is rising among valley residents who have been housebound for the past two weeks as the lockdown has been extended till April 15, and their food supply is dwindling fast.
The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies said that grocery shops would be allowed to open, but the local units have prevented them from opening or permitted them to remain open for a brief period only.
The Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market Development Board has shut down retail sales at its vegetable bazaar.
State-owned Food Management and Trading Company is making home deliveries of daily essentials like cooking gas and food items, but only to a few localities, said consumer rights activists.
With the government enforcing the stay-at-home order more strictly, the general public is having a hard time getting food to feed their families.
Bhainsepati resident Bina Rijal had stocked up on potato and onion, but her supplies are running low. The 41-year-old housewife said most of the shops around her home are either closed or they too are out of stock.
“Vegetables have become a rare sight; and even if you manage to find some, they are extremely high-priced,” she said. “The lockdown has become expensive for us.”
More than a dozen supermarkets and e-retailers are providing home delivery service, but they are inundated with orders and are hard-pressed to fulfil them. Many of them have set a minimum order quantity.
Consumers said retail shopkeepers had been engaging in price gouging to profit from the lockdown. Retail prices of vegetables, fruits and daily food items have spiked.
Prices of daily essentials have not increased, but retailers have been overcharging customers citing short supplies due to lax market inspection, said consumers.
Sagar Mishra, director of the Department of Commerce, Supply and Consumer Protection Management, said that inspection teams were being dispatched only when deemed necessary depending on the number of complaints.
“The government has issued only masks in the name of protective gear, so we send out our staff only for emergency inspection,” he said. The department is concentrating on supply chain management of daily essentials such as gas, rice and legumes.
Prem Lal Maharjan, president of the National Consumer Forum, said that supply management has been a failure for lack of coordination between government agencies.
Food Management and Trading Company and Salt Trading Company, both government entities, are making only a few deliveries.
Local units have been distributing relief packages, but it does not seem to be effective as they are doing it only in a small number of places in the valley.
The Commerce Department checked 23 firms in the valley during the first two weeks of the lockdown and fined assorted groceries and gas distributors a combined Rs230,000. The department has been inspecting mostly groceries and gas firms.
Maharjan said that the local units had not been conducting market inspection, and as a result, vegetable sellers were jacking up prices by three times.
According to the Consumer Right Information Management System, the highest number of complaints received from consumers are related to cooking gas shortages followed by scarce food and overpriced masks.
As per the information system, most of the complaints were registered through the department’s call centre.