Retailers continue to raise vegetable prices despite wholesale rates hitting rock bottomRetail prices of cauliflower, cabbage, squash, bitter gourd, pumpkin and tomato have increased by Rs 25-30 per kg.
Wholesale prices of vegetables have dropped by 60 percent since the lockdown began, yet retailers are still charging high prices, citing a lack of proper distribution and increased costs.
Retailers became emboldened after the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market Development Board shut down all sales at the country’s largest vegetable and fruit market after Kathmandu Metropolitan City expressed concern over the large number of shoppers gathering at close quarters.
The Kalimati vegetable bazaar, which keeps Kathmandu's homes supplied with fresh produce, usually fixes the daily retail prices for vegetables and fruits, which other markets follow. But since it is closed to comply with social distancing rules, there is no price list and retailers are taking advantage of the situation to charge exorbitant prices, said consumer rights activists.
“Since the board stopped fixing the daily retail prices, opportunistic retailers have been charging high prices and making over 100 percent profit,” said Madhav Timilsina, president of Consumer Rights Investigation Forum.
Manju Budathoki of Samakhusi said that the retail prices of cauliflower, cabbage, squash, bitter gourd, pumpkin and tomato have increased by Rs 25-30 per kg. “The prices of vegetables have become so expensive and I can barely buy three types of vegetable for Rs200,” she said.
Consumer rights activists said that lack of market inspection by the local level government has directly encouraged retailers to hike the price of daily consumables. It is the responsibility of the local-level government to conduct market inspection but till date, not a single inspection has been held by them. This has allowed retailers to set high prices in the pretext of lockdown, Timilsina said.
Retailers have hit back, saying they were forced to pay three times more to transport vegetables from the wholesale locations to their shops and had to raise prices as a result.
Binaya Shrestha, deputy director of Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market Development Board said that wholesale prices have declined with regular supply, with the market receiving 350-450 tonnes of vegetables daily. Currently, these are distributed at 11 designated locations all over Kathmandu. According to Shrestha, produce imported from India used to account for about 45 percent of the supply, with the remaining sourced from nearby districts. But since the lockdown, that figure has dropped significantly to around 10 to 15 percent. Domestic farmers are supplying more produce to the Capital.
The Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection Management said that conducting market inspection of retail shops was not possible due to their limited manpower. The department said that it was the responsibility of the local level to conduct inspections instead.