Consumers hit as overpricing, black market go unchecked

People buy daily essentials at a shop in Sindhupalchok. -- PHOTO: THE KATHMANDU POST/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK  
People buy daily essentials at a shop in Sindhupalchok. -- PHOTO: THE KATHMANDU POST/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK  

KATHMANDU (THE KATHMANDU POST/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK,) - Ram Kumar Shrestha of Sankhu, Kathmandu, has been taking shelter in an open space in the area after Saturday’s powerful earthquake that destroyed his house, rendering him and his family members homeless.

Talking to the Post, he complained that the government has been distributing food items to the earthquake victims only occasionally and that too is not enough to fill their bellies.

“We cannot even purchase food items from nearby grocery stores as they have all been completed destroyed,” informed Shrestha.

Sankhu is one of the worst affected areas in Kathmandu with almost all buildings damaged and people in dire need of relief.

Amid this, prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed due to hoarding and black marketing by traders in relatively less affected areas. Samjhana Silwal, a housewife from Koteshwor in Kathmandu, was angry that she had to pay Rupees (Rs) 70  to buy a 500-ml packet of milk that originally cost no more than Rs 35.

“As the Dairy Development Corporation has not been supplying enough milk, I bought Gayatri brand milk by paying exorbitant price,” she said.  

Prices of other essential items and services have also skyrocketed after the earthquake .  

The wholesale price of cauliflower doubled to Rs 60 per kilogram (kg) from its earlier price of Rs 30. Tomato has soared to Rs 60 per kg from Rs 40 while the price of radish tripled to Rs 30 from Rs 10 per kg. Likewise, the price of bottle gourd doubled to Rs 40 and that of pumpkin surged to Rs 40 from Rs 30 while the price of green chilli soared to Rs 60 per kg from Rs 40.

The wholesalers complained about the shortage of manpower and expensive transport fare behind the soaring vegetable prices.

Sumit Adhikari, a wholesaler at the Kalimati vegetable market, said they are now compelled to pay Rs 10,000 for every shipment of vegetables transported. Before the earthquake they used to pay Rs 5,000 for the same service.

Dinesh Chand, another wholesaler of potato, complained of being required to pay as high as Rs 150 to a porter just to carry a sack of potatoes, something that used to cost Rs 50 earlier.   

And taxi drivers are also found to be overcharging their customers.

“I wanted to go to Sankhu with some food items for my friend whose house got damaged by the earthquake . But the taxi driver is asking Rs 2,000 to go there from Jadibuti, which is really very expensive,” said Prabha Sharma, a resident of Jadibuti.

Consumer Right Activists said the consumers were having a hard time due to the short supply of essential commodities. “Some traders have started hoarding essential items and could also be engaged in black market while few transporters are reportedly charging high fares from the travellers to take undue advantage of the situation,” said Prem Lal Maharjan, president of National Consumers Forum.

Closure of many wholesale and retail shops has also encouraged black marketeers to charge exorbitant prices during crisis. Most of the retail shops as well as departmental stores in Kathmandu Valley were open, while petrol pumps and groceries were seen closed even six days after the earthquake. The government has warned of strong action against retailers not opening their stores.

During a visit to major wholesale areas such as Kuleshwor and Kalimati on Thursday, it was found that most wholesale stores were closed. Those that were open operated only for a few hours, only pointing out a shortage of manpower.

Police on Thursday arrested 11 traders who were involved in black market, and four for overcharging for vehicle tickets. According to Senior Superintendent of Police Puskar Karki, six traders were from Kalanki, Kalimati and Balkhu.  

The trend of adulteration and charging high prices by traders are also found to be rising amid the hour of national crisis. The Department of Commerce and Supply Management (DoCSM) on Thursday found Machchhindra Oil Store, Kumaripati, selling substandard diesel, confirming it after a test at the Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology.

On Wednesday, a joint market monitoring team took action against Renu Raut, proprietor of Krishna Store in Hadigaun, Kathmandu, for overcharging customers on bottled water.

Deepak Pokharel, market monitoring officer at DoCSM said five joint market monitoring teams and a mobile team were mobilised on Thursday to cross check the situation of supply. According to him, around 70 per cent of the outlets still remained closed.