With the possibility of the lockdown getting extended, especially in the red and yellow marked dzongkhags, almost all residents are stocking up on grocery items and vegetables. Most shops in Thimphu have enough commodities to last for about a week before they have to be re-stocked. Vegetables, and essential grocery items, like, edible oils, rice, sanitary pads, toilet papers, and toiletries seem to be available everywhere for now.
While shops still have old stock items, there is a marked increase in prices of some commodities sold in the shops, particularly tobacco, imported items and grocery items.
The cost of a kilogram (kg) of lentils (dal) is now Nu 110 in several shops in Babesa, Thimphu, which is an increase of Nu 10. According to a shopkeeper of Aupahar Shop, the price of some items, like Samyang noodles, has increased. She now sells a packet of the noodles at Nu 85 compared to Nu 80 before the lockdown. She justified that the price increase is due to the increase in wholesale price, and if she were to sell the noodles at Nu 80 then she wouldn’t be making any profit. The prices of rice and Maggi have also increased in her shop.
“It is inevitable that prices of some items are increasing by around Nu 5 or Nu 10, as they are increased from the source, itself,” the shopkeeper claimed. Among essential items, rice and vegetables are sold the most, according to shopkeepers.
“We have yet to receive complaints regarding the hike in prices of commodities, but we are currently conducting field investigations, as there are chances shopkeepers could be taking advantage of the lockdown to manipulate prices,” said the Chief Trade Officer (CTO) of the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP), Gopal Pradhan.
CTO added that since shops still have old stock, there should not be any increase in prices of commodities, at the moment. The consumers are asked to lodge complaints to OCP, if they notice any unfair and unreasonable increase in the price of essential items during the lockdown.
Another notable example is tobacco, where a packet of Wills Navy Cut cigarettes, which used to cost around Nu 150 in most shops are now sold at Nu 200.
“There is a fear of tobacco shortage due to the lockdown. The Duty Free Outlet doesn’t seem open for now, that is why there is increase in price of cigarettes,” said Roshan Basnet, a shopkeeper in Babesa. The Breedee shop and Tserinche5 Mart in Babesa saw some consumers rush-buying some commodities on the first day of the lockdown. Vegetables, dairy products, rice and toiletries were some most common items bought by the customers.
The shops are apprehensive about restocking the goods, if the lockdown lasts longer, as there are no deliveries from the wholesalers, currently. Also most shops faced shortages of vegetables on the first day of the lockdown. If the lockdown is extended, it is most likely that the prices of many commodities are likely to increase due to the sheer nature of demand and supply and the monopoly of a few open shops.