State-owned companies withdraw discount on groceries citing end of lockdownFinance Ministry says it has given no such instruction as general public continues to suffer from pandemic curbs.
State-owned Salt Trading Corporation and Food Management and Trading Company have withdrawn discounts on groceries citing the end of the lockdown, while the Finance Ministry says it has given no such instruction as the pandemic persists.
The two companies have been selling selected food products with a 20 percent discount, which they stopped from Tuesday after the government eased virus restrictions.
Mahesh Acharya, spokesperson for the Finance Ministry, said they had written to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies on June 15 to continue the discount offers on food items until further notice.
“Last Monday, we also reminded the Industry Ministry to maintain the reduced prices,” he added.
But Industry Ministry spokesperson Narayan Regmi said they hadn’t received any instructions. “The discount offer was meant for the lockdown period. Since the lockdown has been lifted, we stopped it from Tuesday,” he said. “I do not know what the Finance Ministry is talking about,” he told the Post.
Consumer rights activists said the lockdown in Kathmandu Valley was not over, and that it had been extended till June 28.
“It has been eased, but it has not been lifted,” said Madhav Timalsina, president of the Consumer Rights Investigation Forum. “There is a lack of coordination between the ministries.”
Timalsina said the Industry Ministry probably thought there would be a stampede to buy the discounted groceries due to the loosened lockdown, and that this would increase losses to the government.
“This is a completely irresponsible behaviour on the part of the Industry Ministry. This shows how sincere the government is about providing relief to consumers during the pandemic.”
The budget for the next fiscal year 2021-22 announced on May 29 had said a 20 percent discount would be provided on rice, flour, lentils, iodised salt, edible oil, sugar and cooking fuel at stores maintained by Food Management and Trading Company and Salt Trading Corporation under a relief subsidy and economic revival programme for the duration of the pandemic.
The two government-owned companies have been issuing the groceries at discounted prices from their outlets in the valley and across the country since June 4.
Kumar Rajbhandari, deputy chief executive of Salt Trading Corporation, said they had received a letter from the Ministry of Industry directing them to discontinue the discount offer. “We stopped it accordingly.”
The corporation issued a notice on Monday informing consumers that the discount offer would end from Tuesday.
“We are not aware of the Finance Ministry's instruction. We do what the Industry Ministry tells us,” Rajbhandari said.
Salt Trading had set a quota of 2 kg of flour, 1 litre of soybean oil, one cylinder of cooking gas, sugar and salt for a family of five. Shoppers had to bring a photocopy of their citizenship certificate to get the discount.
The corporation was selling flour at Rs44 per kg, sugar at Rs63 per kg, salt at Rs16 per kg, soybean oil at Rs188 per litre and cooking gas at Rs1,120 per cylinder.
Mohan Prakash Chand, chief executive officer of Food Management and Trading Company, said they didn't have enough food stocks to provide relief to people hit by the pandemic, besides victims of natural disasters.
“It became difficult for us to continue the discount offers,” Chand told the Post.
Sharmila Neupane, spokesperson for the company, said they decided to terminate the scheme on their own. “The markets had reopened from Tuesday and most economic activities had resumed, so there was no point in continuing the offer,” Neupane said.
“The discounts add up to a large amount, and it will be difficult for us to adjust the financial losses,” she said.
Food Management and Trading Company has not issued any notice about discontinuing the offer. The company was providing a 20 percent discount on seven types of rice and Karnali beans, and had set a quota of 30 kg of rice and 2 kg of Karnali beans per family.
Consumers were asked to show their identity card while shopping at the company’s outlets. The discount schemes were available at its outlets at Thapathali and Ramshah Path in Kathmandu, Nakhu in Lalitpur and Suryabinayak in Bhaktapur, and in different districts outside the valley.