For the past few weeks, as the wet weather conditions have forced frequent and prolonged closure of the Srinagar-Jammu national highway, Valley has been facing shortage of some essentials. And as is always the case, the shortage of supplies automatically pushes up the prices. Otherwise also, the traders in the Valley are always waiting for such opportunities – so the closure of national highway gives them a pretext to charge at will. So as the situation is, the prices of vegetables and fruits, of chicken, eggs and mutton have gone up during past few weeks. The chicken that was selling at Rs 100-110 a kg is now being sold at Rs 150-160 a kg and same is the case with other things as well. In this situation if the ordinary people are questioning the utility and efficiency of the government agencies vested with the job of keeping prices at bay, they have every justified reason to do so. If a government and its agencies are not able to make butchers and grocers and milk-men to adhere to the rates fixed by it, one has a reason to question its utility!
Take this argument forward and expand it to bring in other services as well, then, one can say with absolute surety that the administration has completely failed in giving common people any semblance of the rule of the law. It is not only the mutton or milk-sellers or grocers but almost anybody and everybody selling anything in Kashmir prefers to go by their own rule – which is that there is no rule. Traders do whatever they want to do, and howsoever they are able to do it and nobody actually raises a brow. The administration usually opts to look other way, for the two sides have cultivated a deft understanding wherein they scratch each-others backs and distribute the spoils among themselves – the sleazy profits realized by fleecing the ordinary people through black-marketing and profiteering.
Hindsight has it that whenever administration, owing to whatever reasons, tries to tame the unruly business-people, the latter would opt for a strike to blackmail both administration as well as the people into submission. Our butchers and poultry traders have taken this skill to enviable heights over the years. But this does not mean that others are lagging behind. Be it grocers or those selling any other edibles, everyone knows how to get away with their selfish ways and the administration has thus far only been an inert onlooker, always choosing to fall in line once the corrupt officials get their share of the murky money.
Interestingly, each time administration tries crack whip on the greedy traders, latter retaliate by creating artificial scarcity of the essential edibles, thereby holding an entire population to ransom. Going back to the initial assertion, if administration here had been active and sensitive to the public needs and problems, it would have initiated punitive action against these people who are blackmailing the masses here.
Whenever a milk-seller or a butcher (or ‘Kothdar’) or a grocer applies for a license for a particular business, they actually sign in an oath and pledge to offer certain services to the people (supply mutton or milk, for instance), and also assure that in doing so they will adhere to certain rules and regulations pertaining to the quality as well as prices of these commodities as notified under law or prescribed by the by the government (through its concerned agencies) from time to time. Now when these people breach their part of the contract (as they do repeatedly), why doesn’t the government initiate action against them? What holds divisional administration from cancelling their licenses and devising some alternative means to ensure the supply of essential and quality edibles to the people at reasonable rates?
Instead of taking any serious action against the erring traders, the administration here has perfected the style of issuing only empty warnings and threats. Every once in a while statements claiming that so-called market checking squads realized fine from the erring shopkeepers. But then as the ground situation testifies, there assertions remain confined to the statements meant for media consumption, nothing less, nothing more!
But this cannot happen for-ever. It is time that administration communicates to all the unscrupulous traders that their greedy tricks are unacceptable. They need to be told that there are laws to tame them; and they need to be shown that they could be tamed. But this won’t happen unless those in the administration who patronize unruliness of traders are tamed first.