Outrage as sugar disappears from local markets

Price goes up to Rs145 per kg in Punjab and Sindh

In a startling development, sugar once again disappeared from the local markets all over the country on Thursday, only two weeks after the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) stay order on Rs44 billion fine on sugar mills by the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP).

The retail price of the sugar also touched the sky as it was sold at Rs140 at some markets and Rs145 at others, posing a serious challenge to the writ of the government. The market survey revealed that the retail price of sugar currently in Lahore was Rs140 per kg, while the rate in the wholesale market went up by Rs9 per kg, where it was being sold at Rs135 per kg as compared to the rate of Rs126 per kg.

According to reports, the wholesale rate of the essential commodity went up by Rs25 in Karachi after which it was being sold at Rs140 per kg in the local markets there.

In some markets, it is available for at least Rs145. In Peshawar, sugar was being sold at Rs160-200 per kg. The official price of per kg sugar, however, is Rs90. On October 18, 2021, the LHC stayed the highest-ever penalty of Rs44 billion on sugar mills imposed by the CCP on an appeal moved by sugar mills owners.

Earlier, the LHC fixed sugar prices after hearing lengthy arguments and ordered the government to monitor the prices but the owners challenged the decision before the court. The matter is still pending before the court and the prices have touched the sky. The prices of the essential commodities also went up at the utility stores, leaving no option for the public to take a sigh of relief. “‘Tabdeeli Sarkar’ has totally failed. It is forcing poor people to end their lives. This is what I’m sure of right now,” an irate Mohammad Shafi, a resident of the Ichra area, told Minute Mirror during a market survey.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan failed to control sugar prices – a single commodity – what else we can expect from him. The profiteers and hoarders are charging the prices of their choice and nobody is there to monitor them,” he further said.

Farzana Bibi, a resident of the Iqbal Town area, who was out to buy groceries near Dubai Chowk, said, “Not just sugar, everything has gone out of the reach of the common people.” She was of the opinion that the sky-high cannot come down unless the petroleum prices continued to rise. “You see the PM has clearly said that POL prices will continue to go up. So it would be foolish to hope for relief. What relief is he talking about when essential commodity like sugar is not available in the markets,” she asked. She also asked where the writ of the government was to buckle the hoarders and profiteers.

“Take action. You are responsible for the failure. Why are the hoarders not being taken to task,” she asked further.

Another woman, Shafia Ali, strongly criticised the PTI government for high inflation, especially regarding the sky-high price of per kilogramme sugar. “Life has become extremely tough. No relief at all. Sugar, vegetables, milk and other essential items like oil and ghee have gone out of our reach,” she said. Talking exclusively to Minute Mirror, Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) Vice President Haris Attique said, “The sugar crisis has not been properly dealt with by the government. Rising sugar prices have resulted in food inflation and an increasing cost of living.”

Sugar in the market is not available at government notified rates, he said, adding that if that is somehow available, it’s not of the same quality. “The crisis has not come up in the immediate past; we exported it when we needed to preserve it. Sugar being dealt in only a few big hands has not helped the case either,” Haris said.

The LCCI vice president said the government’s writ has not been established, as he called for empowering market committees and to deal with hoarders with an iron hand. “Government should invite all stakeholders to come up with a workable solution, starting from farmers till distributors,” he further said.

Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) General Secretary Hassan Iqbal said that the prices of sugar suddenly went high and the fact was that there was sufficient stock of sugar in the markets. He said, “The PTI government also imported sugar in huge quantity and now if it disappeared then what can I say.”

When asked about the stocks of sugars with the millers, Hassan said, “The total stock of sugar has been taken from their millers and now we have nothing.”

“We are out of sugar,” he expressed his frustration and anger while exclusively talking to Minute Mirror. “Before the prices went sky-high, we had a stock of 6.5 million metric tonnes,” he said.

Responding to another question as to why the prices went up, the PSMA leader said that it was about “fixation of price” and “regularisation”.

“When per kg sugar price was at Rs93 then why did the government think to get it fixed,” he asked and said that fixation of price and regularisation led to skyrocketing prices.

Fida Hussnain is a correspondent covering judiciary, politics, business and health issues. He is also a feature writer and researcher with major work on freedom of press in Pakistan. He tweets @fidahassanain and can be reached at fidahassanain@gmail.com.