Will the government take steps to rein in the prices of essential commodities in the interest of consumers?

Today, the sky-rocketing prices of essential supplies and vegetables have crippled the common man. Famine, hoarding, black marketing, forward trading and various other reasons are attributed to the unprecedented price rise. Of these, it is common knowledge that forward trading of food grains in the commodity market has contributed substantially to the increase in prices of essential commodities. The Standing Committee appointed by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, to study this, had in its report unanimously recommended that — As the benefit of upsurge in commodity market, especially for agriculture sector has been cornered by middlemen and traders at the cost of Indian farmers and consumers alike, the Committee recommends that agricultural commodity, especially food grains including coarse grains, pulses and sugar need not be permitted to be traded in the commodity markets, including forward/future contract derivatives and options. In consequence, the Central Government is understood to have suspended forwarded trading of a couple of food grains. However, it is crucial that forward trading of agricultural commodities be banned totally with a view to protecting the welfare of consumers as well as farmers.

It is the primary responsibility of the Government to monitor the price situation regularly, look into reasons for the soaring prices of essential commodities that threaten the food security of consumers and take steps to contain it. For maintaining or increasing supplies of any essential commodity or for securing its equitable distribution and availability at a fair price, the Government is empowered under Section 3 (2) (c) of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 to control the rates at which essential commodities may be bought or sold. However, it is regrettable that neither the Centre nor the State Governments are seen invoking these powers to control the prices. It is essential for the Governments to realise that their powers are not restricted to providing commodities at controlled prices through the fair price shops alone but also to ensure that no essential commodity is sold in any market at a price more than that prescribed by the Government at any given time.

Highlighting these issues, consumer organisations in the country have approached the Ministry, demanding prompt action to curb the spiralling prices of essential commodities to protect the common consumer. As responsible citizens, it is also important for civil society to voice its views as this will certainly add more credence to what is a serious issue. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution have called for collective effort on the part of the Central and the State Governments to tackle this alarming situation. It is hoped that they will take prudent steps without further delay, considering the plight of the consumers.

(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details/queries contact 24914358/24460387 or helpdesk@cag.org.in)

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