The lockdown has been hard on the consumers who have no option but to pay high prices for vegetables and grocery items. Despite the government directive to keep fixed prices for all local and imported vegetables, some vendors and grocery shops remain indifferent.
Some shops are selling several vegetables at prices beyond the approved and fixed price range. The imported chilies are sold at Nu 120 per kg against the fixed price of Nu 85 per kg. Similarly, the imported bitter gourd costs Nu 90 per kg against fixed retail price of Nu 80 per kg. In addition, the cost of 1kg of imported cabbage is Nu 35, which is Nu 5 more than the fixed price.
Furthermore, local potatoes and local tree tomatoes are priced at Nu 40 and Nu 80 per kg respectively, but the approved fixed costs are Nu 30 per kg each. Despite such high prices, business is bustling in the shops.
“Of course, I noticed that the prices of vegetables have increased by a bit, but I never bothered to check the retail prices fixed by the government since the situation is a lot better than the first and second lockdowns. On the other hand, the price of eggs has increased by the day, and now it costs at least Nu 550 per tray, which is unbearable,” said Pema Losel, a consumer who came to buy vegetables.
Another shop in Thimphu, SB Tshongkhang, has been selling local radishes at Nu 50 per kg instead of the approved rate of Nu 30 per kg. The local cauliflower is priced at Nu 140 per kg instead of the fixed price of Nu 110. The shopkeeper has been getting her goods delivered from FCB as well as other suppliers.
Jigme Chogyal is a consumer who buys vegetables from Smart Mart in the Babesa vicinity, and he said, “There hasn’t been any price fluctuation at this shop, as far as I noticed. Even if there are fluctuations, it’s only by Nu 5 or Nu 10. Personally, I don’t mind, as long as the prices aren’t exorbitant.”
Bikash from Big Mart in Thimphu said the retail price depends upon the wholesale price. He usually buys the goods for his shop from another shop in the same neighborhood, but hesitated to reveal the wholesale price.
A shopkeeper, Sonam Zangmo, justified the high price of vegetables sold in her shop, as it was the old stock of vegetables bought at a relatively high price from the source, itself. One kg of local chilies is sold at a whooping Nu 240 in her shop.
Chief Program Officer of the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP), Jigme Dorji, said that any increase in commodity prices, beyond the approved fixed price by the government, even by one Ngultrum, is illegal and punishable by law.
“During our field inspections, we have noticed that some shops were non-compliant of the directive, and we even had to penalize and fine them. It is not possible for us to inspect each and every shop, that’s why we are encouraging consumers to lodge complaints if they see unfair prices in the market. All the shops have been notified of the government’s directive, and if they say they weren’t aware of it, they are obviously lying. We have taken a lot of action against non-compliant shops,” he said.
According to OCP, a majority of the vendors and shop owners are aware of OCP. There are chances of vendors lying about not knowing about the fixed prices. Therefore, OCP makes enquires on the prices with the consumers who have just shopped from the shops.
It has been learnt that most shops have been facing a lot of difficulties in procuring vegetables from wholesalers and farmers amidst the lockdown.
Phub Gyeltshen who owns Gongphel shop, a central vegetable hotspot in Babesa where all kinds of consumers (both shopkeepers and civilians alike) buy vegetables, said, “People prefer local vegetables, but currently, it has been very difficult to get local vegetables due to movement restrictions, however, procuring imported vegetables hasn’t been an issue. The supply has been very bad. I have been making about 15 calls just to get some vegetable supplies, but even then it takes about five days, at least, for the goods to arrive.”
The shopkeeper also clarified that he has been running short of cabbages and spring onions and he needed to process an ePass to get those from CFM, which takes around three days to get the formalities sorted out. It was also learnt that a farmer booked a van in Thinleygang to deliver 200 kgs of cauliflower, 50 kgs of broccoli and 100 kgs of spinach to the vendor, but the van was stopped by the authorities, stating that the vegetables will be only allowed to be transported in a bolero pick-up truck.
The Office of the Consumer Protection booked 31 businesses for overcharging with fines of Nu 71,214 in the last 12 days.