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The monster of inflation continues to wreck people, and the government is playing a bystander that has simply failed to rein in the rising cost of living and give a semblance of reprieve to the hapless citizens crushed by poverty and unemployment.
As though the constant hike in petrol prices were not enough to shock people, the surging prices of sugar, one of the basic commodities, have made people’s lives unlivable. The sweetener that is officially fixed at Rs90 is being sold for up to Rs160 across many cities, belying the government’s claims that the country has enough reserves to meet demand for the next three weeks.
So, what exactly is the problem? The government has simply made a mess of the sugar trade. Its so-called crackdown against producers and dealers for the last two years has proved to be counterproductive. The administration, backed by the police and anti-corruption agencies, has failed to take to task the sugar mafias and cartels; instead, sugar prices have only seen a swift and consistent rise. The emphasis on accountability has diverted the authorities from their job of regulating the supply chain to a political witch-hunt. The Punjab’s cane commissioner is being held responsible for the sugar mess as he failed to assist producers in procuring cane at the officially fixed rate of Rs200 per 40kg. As per a report, the cane commissioner failed to anticipate sugar production or propose corrective actions to cover the likely shortages.
But it’s essentially the government’s job to give a reasonable estimate of domestic output and, in case of anticipated shortages, ensure timely import of the product. More important, it needs to reform the whole supply chain and document it for better regulation. People crushed by a sustained onslaught of elevated food and energy inflation do not care whether the rise in sugar prices is due to market manipulation or some other factor. All they want is the easy availability of essential food items at affordable prices, no matter what.