People suffer as groceries become scarce and costly under lockdownPrices continue to rise even as livelihoods have been taken away by the restrictions enforced to tackle the pandemic.
Ramesh Dangol of Sukedhara is tired of buying overpriced groceries, but he has no choice as it's a seller's market. The country has been under virus lockdown for two months, and only a few shops are open, that too only briefly. So he has to buy up whatever is available and pay whatever they say.
The 38-year-old tailor has not earned a rupee since the lockdown began. He has to feed a family of six and pay rent, and his savings are disappearing fast. Dangol says it has become difficult to manage household expenses with zero income.
“As only a few shops are open and for a very limited time, there is no option but to pay whatever price they say,” he said. "The price of all types of lentils has increased by Rs15-20 per kg. Rice and vegetables have become dearer too."
Dangol says prices increase as the lockdown gets tighter with shopkeepers citing the restrictions for the higher costs.
Essential food items, vegetables and meat have all become more expensive since the stay-at-home order was announced in March. Prices continue to rise even as livelihoods have been taken away by the pandemic.
The jump in prices of daily essentials has made life hard for those who have not been able to operate their small businesses and those who have lost their monthly salary.
According to Nepal Rastra Bank, consumer price inflation stood at 6.74 percent in mid-April compared to 4.44 percent a year ago.
Food and beverage inflation stood at 9.68 percent while non-food and service inflation reached 4.48 percent.
Within the food and beverage group, the price of vegetables, fruits, spices and pulses and legumes sub-groups rose significantly in the review month.
Radhe Shyam KC, a resident of Kuleshwor, said he had not bought meat for more than a month. “A kilogram of mutton costs Rs1,500, and sometimes the price even reaches Rs1,800 per kg. Who buys meat for Rs1,800 per kg?”
The 42-year-old school teacher says shopkeepers are overcharging their customers. “Traders are cheating consumers in broad daylight for lack of government inspection. And now the price of chicken has also gone up to Rs340-350 per kg while eggs cost Rs335-340 per crate,” he said. The price of buffalo meat has also reached Rs500 from Rs350 before.
Traders, for their part, say that different provisions introduced by the government are creating confusion and hindering the operation of businesses and transportation of goods.
The Home Ministry has tightened all entry points into Kathmandu, and anybody wishing to enter the valley needs to produce a rapid diagnostic test certificate.
Vegetable, dairy and poultry suppliers are confused whether they need a certificate or not. They have been encountering frequent problems due to lack of clarity and coordination between the government and the police administration.
Economist Jagdish Chandra Pokhrel said unless the government clearly explains the rules for the supply of essential goods, suppliers will not come to Kathmandu which will hit the supply chain.
The impact of the lockdown on the supply chain of perishable and non-perishable goods needs to be observed carefully, he said. In the two months of the lockdown, shipments have gradually started decreasing. This will definitely hit prices as shortages may lead to hoarding or black marketing.
According to retailers, prices of rice, lentils, legumes, sugar and edible oil have swelled by 10-12 percent. Vegetable and fruit prices have also risen.
Wholesale prices of vegetables have decreased sharply, but retailers continue to charge high prices as customers are not able to go to the wholesale market due to the stricter lockdown.
Vegetables like tomato, cowpea (long), green pea, French bean (local and hybrid), bitter gourd, bottle gourd, squash and okra have become cheaper by up to 52 percent, according to the wholesale price list at the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market Development Board. But consumers are still being overcharged.
Binaya Shrestha, deputy director of the board, said that the market was receiving 400-450 tonnes of vegetables daily and supply was normal. Labour charges have risen due to manpower shortages, and transport companies have hiked freight costs citing the risks involved amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
Resham Tamang, administrator at the Balkhu Agriculture Vegetable Market, said that 400-500 tonnes of vegetables were being delivered daily. He said that retailers were charging Rs50 for vegetables that cost Rs30 wholesale.
Consumer rights activists said that sellers were adding extra charges to the price on the pretext of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prem Lal Maharjan, president of the National Consumer Forum, blamed the local government for not fulfilling its responsibility in the midst of a pandemic. The municipalities in the valley do not seem to care about consumer interest, he said.
The disorder in the market is shown by the arbitrary prices being charged for vegetables which is a result of local units not performing their duties. Consumers are compelled to suffer for this reason, he said.
According to Maharjan, a kg of potato which costs Rs27-31 wholesale is being sold at up to Rs100-110 per kg retail. It's the same with other vegetables, he said.