Food prices surge 15 percent in KathmanduConsumer rights activists said that prices of food items have increased as retailers are taking undue advantage of the lockdown
Importers and domestic food manufacturers are laughing all the way to the bank after jacking up prices of daily consumable food items in the Kathmandu valley by 10 to 15 percent amidst a nationwide lockdown.
Rajkumar Shrestha, president at Nepal Retailers Association, said the price of rice has gone up by Rs 5 per kg while legume and lentil prices have increased by Rs 15-20 per kg.
Similarly, prices of edible oils have increased by Rs 15-20 per litre.
"The prices of food items were normal till the first week of lockdown," he said. “Prices started rising in the second week of the lockdown once the old stock ran out and a new consignment soon entered the market with higher rates."
He said that the retailers have been informed by wholesalers that prices have increased with the rise in transportation charges, said Shrestha.
But the prices of petrol and diesel have already been reduced.
“Wholesalers are also not giving us the purchase bill,” he said.
Sanjay Phuyal, proprietor of Aasma Enterprises, a wholesale supplier of food items said that big importers and major players in the domestic food industry were the ones behind the price hikes.
Lentil prices have increased by Rs 25 per kg while staples like rice mansuli and jira masino have seen a price hike of Rs 4 per kg at the wholesale level.
Shrestha said that the wholesaler used to provide goods on credit for one to two months but now, they are not offering such credit facility.
"They are also not providing delivery service of goods as well," he added.
Prem Lal Maharjan, president of National Consumer Forum, said that prices for food items have increased as retailers are taking undue advantage of the lockdown. "The government's dedicated agencies are not monitoring the market."
"We have received complaints of price hikes in daily essential food items for the last two weeks," he said.
Though the government had said that it will allow retail shops to open, only a few have done so. The administration has given shopkeepers a timetable where they are allowed to do business.
"Retailers are booking profits in the absence of government's monitoring mechanisms," said Maharhan.
Furthermore, market anomalies have increased during the lockdown as even a small gas depot was found selling a gas cylinder for nearly Rs2,000, he said.
“Despite the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies Lekh Raj Bhatta conducting market inspections personally, retailers pay no heed and continue to price gouge consumers,” said Maharjan.
The government should conduct effective inspections and take strict action against traders who are profiteering in this time of crisis, said consumer rights activists.
Bhatta said that except for vegetables and fruits, no other food items have seen price hikes, during a Nepal Television interview on Friday. “I have been conducting market inspections and found no serious issues,” he said.
“If consumers are being charged high prices then they can inform me or file a complaint at the Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection Management on the toll-free number 1137,” Bhatta added.
Sagar Mishra, director at the department, said that they are conducting market inspections but only at limited places. He also said that the inspection teams are hesitant to visit markets and shops fearing that they may contact coronavirus.