On 11th August when the nationwide lockdown was announced people were seen going for a last-minute shopping before the 7 am mark. The lockdown brought most shops to a halt but when they gradually let shops open, then many people reported about the abnormal prices for goods.
Some of the localities reported that the shops were using scarcity as a tool to sell the products for a higher price, while others said that the shopkeepers told them that the prices had increased from their supply sources and additional transportation charges were being borne during the lockdown.
Jigme Dorji, Chief Program Office, Office of Consumer Protection (OCP), MoEA said that the office had anticipated issues of price escalation, sale of expired products, unfair denial of sales, inappropriate product labeling, underweight items, misleading representation of goods and other deceptive trade practices during the lockdown.
He said, “The OCP continued sensitizing and reminding the business entities during lockdown to avoid engaging in price manupilations and any other unfair and unethical trade practices”.
The office has around 100 consumer complaints lodged to the OCP during the lockdown period.
He said, “The officials of OCP, based on the instruction of the central COVID-19 task force, is intensely carrying out market surveillance and monitoring in Thimthrom on a daily basis to ensure that the unfair trade practices do not proliferate and the business entities do not engage in deceptive practices during the lockdown.”
“Further, based on the directive of the NC19TF (National COVID-19 Task Force), the office is carrying out monitoring activities throughout the country leveraging the officials of Dzongkhags, Dungkhags, Gewogs and Thromdes” he added.
According to reports from the consumers, some of the example of price escalations were in terms of items like noodles, bread, juice, eggs and alcoholic beverages among others.
Karma, one of the buyers, said “I doubt if here was any hike in prices for wai wai or alcohol produces from the factories, especially in case of alcohol which we produce within our country.”
He added, “Of course, I understand that the transportation and the loading charges at this time must be pressurizing but I think that is a problem at the businessmen’s end and imposing additionally on the consumer is not right.”
Wangmo a resident of upper Samtenling said, “I do not buy packet items much but it is very hard to know the prices of eggs at any given time. Even before COVID-19 the prices were quite high, I was buying an egg for Nu10 to Nu 12, nowadays it is either Nu15 or Nu18, I wonder where we can know the standard price for eggs”.
While the consumers said that, the shopkeepers were also stuck to their guns as they claimed to have incurred various extra expenditures and increase in prices of items.
One of the shopkeepers said that there had been an increase in the price for coca cola by almost Nu 5 and mentioning some other items at her store she said that the prices had increased before the lockdown.
Jigme Dorji, CPO, OCP said, “The office has substantially sensitized the general consumers about OCP toll free number through various platforms and continues to do so. Subsequently, the consumer complaints through the toll-free numbers have increased over the period of time”.
He said, “During the nationwide lockdown, all shops which opened to supply essential items to general consumers were selling old stocks which was imported prior to lockdown. OCP has been appealing to all the shopkeepers approved for opening to sell essential commodities at a price prior to lockdown.”
Additionally, he stated that the office is collecting the Market Price Information (MPI) of essential commodities across the country during lockdown and comparing it to the MPI collected prior to the lockdown to monitor price manipulation and escalations.
He said that the shops approved for opening during the lockdown were also required to display price board for essential items as a mandatory requirement.
He added, “The actions against the unscrupulous business entities are also taken based on MPI comparison”.
The office has currently formed up a market surveillance and monitoring teams in Dzongkhags and Gewogs through the Dzongkhag administrations which comprises of officials from BAFRA, Ministry of Agriculture, Department of livestock, GAO, Gups, statistical officials along with other local authorities.
The OCP makes necessary interventions as and when required.
Reportedly, the Office has been receiving consumer complaints on a daily basis and in order to provide quick consumer protection services, the office has made an arrangement with the Grievance Helpdesk Number 1023 at the Prime Minister’s Office and Help desk 1010 where the issues related to consumer complaints have been provided to OCP for appropriate grievance redressal.
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