Uzair Ali describes an extremely problematic
Pakistan is experiencing Unbearable cost of living spate of price increase and this price hike has spared no quarter linked with everyday life. The most worrying aspect is that the price hike has remained consistent since the last many years implying that it is running amuck without relenting a bit. The financial ability of the common man of the country has reached its rock-bottom and he is left with no option but to put up with horrendous prospects of hunger and deprivation. The country is full of stories of deprivation that are heart-rending and adding to the pain is the inability of the governance sector to ameliorate the sufferings of the people. The current situation faced by the people of Pakistan is the first of its kind and the most unnerving reality for them is that there is hardly any chance of the galloping price hike coming to an end and virtually nil chance of it ever getting reduced. The arguments about a global trend of price escalation are relevant in many aspects but the Pakistani people are singularly devoid of any price indexation that softens the blow of rising inflation.
There is hardly any doubt that the current unstoppable price hike is self-created in its nature and content. It is now quite clear that this process is the handiwork of local manufacturers, wholesalers and service providers who apparently have nothing to fear and are callous enough to fleece their compatriots. The most troubling aspect of the issue is that the government appears to be taking cosmetic measures only to control the prices in the absence of a price and profit assessment and regulation mechanism, leading to record-high rates of commodities unbearable for the common man. It has become crystal clear that there is no capable mechanism for price control as it is practically free-for-all, as the vendors keep on increasing prices virtually every day with a gay abandon as if they wish to enrich themselves overnight. They are even not conscious that increasing prices may well depress the demand and it will become difficult for them in the long run.
It is common knowledge that the increasing price spiral creates a situation where businesses take advantage of a crisis to charge excessive prices for basic necessities and are engaged in selling goods significantly above their usual price. The result is that the unofficial inflation rate in Pakistan has climbed to an unprecedented 35 per cent, the highest in around 15 years and this swift climb is unprecedented. In this context it is worthwhile to point out that the government has projected a modest inflationary annual target of 11.5 per cent but the Federal Board of Revenue, which uses inflation as one of the measures to gather additional taxes from consumers, has projected inflation at 12.8 per cent.
The International Monetary Fund said in its country’s staff report that the average Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation was expected to surge to 20 per cent while core inflation would also remain elevated due to higher energy prices and the rupee’s decline. A meteoric rise in rates of various varieties of flour, ghee and cooking oil, onion, utility bills, petroleum and milk products, rice, pulses, tea, etc had multiplied the consumers’ cost of living. This increase once again brings to fore the painful reality that market stakeholders and the manufacturers did not feel any kind of fear from the federal, provincial and city governments that could at least restrict them from pushing up the prices freely.
The prices of almost every item in the country have sky-rocketed as is witnessed by a jump in the price of wheat, the most consumed staple in the country. It is usually held that any increase in the price of wheat, like any increase in POL prices, brings in its wake corresponding increases in many other consumer items. The 100kg wheat bag is available at Rs.10,200-10,500 with consumers expressing surprise over 6.92 million tons of wheat import at a cost of $2.24bn from July 2022 till November 2022 that literally has failed in bringing any respite in flour prices. In consequence the price of high quality fine flour bag of five and 10kg to Rs.700 and Rs.1,400 from Rs. 420 and Rs.840-850 followed by chakki flour rate to Rs.140-150 from Rs.90 per kg.
Due to abnormal jumps in flour rates, the tandoor operators, who were selling naan at Rs.20 and Rs.25 are now charging Rs.25-30. In January 2022, naan was available at Rs.15-18. A chapati costs Rs.15 as against Rs.10-12 followed by increase in Taaftan and Sheermal rates to Rs.70-80 per piece from Rs.50-60. Large, medium, small and mini plain bread now sell at Rs.200, Rs.150, Rs.110 and Rs.70 as compared to Rs.135, Rs.110, Rs.75 and Rs.50, respectively. The desperate situation has made a large cross-section of people to express that with a more challenging 2023, the government should invite businessmen, market experts, traders and businessmen and discuss strategy to pull out the country from economic collapse that has made life miserable for people. TW