Tomato and potato – federal or provincial?
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There was a time when towns and cities in Pakistan had effectively functioning price control committees. They would take a round of the markets with or without the market inspectors. They would hold regular meetings with the market committees and review the prevailing prices of meat and vegetables, fish and fruit. People would crib even then but there was a mechanism to control and curb undue hoarding and profiteering.
Today, one sees none of that. They have either been dissolved across the country or exist but are not effective. With democracy in practice for the last twelve years, one expected such grassroots systems to gain more strength and efficacy. The opposite appears to have happened. It is in this background that we see a new picture emerges on the issue of rising cost of onions and potatoes, garlic and ginger and the dearer than life tomatoes. It takes the focus away from where it belongs, the provinces and the administrative machinery under them, to the federal government and Imran Khan.
And the Prime Minister quietly accepts the blame and sends his Tiger Force scouting all over the bazaars. His ministers and spokespersons also keep explaining away the rising prices of “Aloo-Tamatar” to the relief and obvious glee of the provinces whose responsibility it is. When the federal government moves to finance and execute some much needed public interest projects for water and sanitation in Karachi, the Sindh government howls and shouts citing the 18th Amendment and asks Islamabad to lay its hands off.
When Islamabad moves to develop an island or two off the Karachi coast to attract investment and build new settlements which will benefit everyone, especially Karachi and Sindh, the Sindh government snarls and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari accuses Islamabad of annexing a part of the province like India has illegally occupied Kashmir. How much would that have delighted the Indians is not difficult to imagine. But when the country, especially the poor, can’t even buy “Aloo Piyaz Tamatar”, the provinces, especially Sindh, blame Islamabad.
For Sindh to do that is politically smart and understandable. But for Islamabad to explain away and even defend the increase in prices of vegetables and fruit is interesting and amusing if not laughable. Will the federal government give a wake-up call to the provinces, including Sindh on the issue of “Aloo Piyaz Tamatar” so they take control of the price mechanism in the towns and cities and address the critical issue of price spiral. For that is where this matter of everyday concern to the people belongs.
For a change, Islamabad should remind the provinces of the 18th Amendment and their responsibilities under it.
Syed Anwar Mahmood is former Federal Secretary of Information.