Aug 11 - 17, 2008

Federal Statistics Department has issued fresh data, showing consumer price index. According to the report, during the year 2007-08, the inflation rate has reached 21.53 percent higher as compared to the last year, which is a record during the last 30 years. According to the details provided, in prices of food products and drinks, there has been an increase of 35.39 percent; in the prices of textile items the increase has been recorded at 9.09 percent. As regards prices of fuel etc. there has been an increase of 11.38 percent, while house rent rates have escalated by 12.39 percent. Prices of domestic furniture and other domestic items have increased by 10.43 percent. Medical expenses have shown an upward trend of 14.16 percent. The rates of transport and communications have gone up by 25 percent and educational expenses have risen by 9.23 percent. The experts on economics have declared this inflation most dreadful, which has made the life of the poor unbearably miserable. During the last six months, there has been a stormy escalation in prices. The international prices of edible oils and palm oil, wheat and atta have caused the worst food crisis ever observed and heard of in the history of Pakistan . The government has revised the rate of inflation to 8.5 percent but if the prices of essential commodities are not tailored and controlled and if they are allowed to go on unchecked, the inflation will rapidly rise to still higher, graver and unmanageable levels.

These facts and figures tell that the government's day-to-day announcements and promises for controlling market prices of essential commodities have been unfounded and merely a lip service. Whatever measures the government have so far taken, have not brought about any fruitful results, which is indicative that if at all any measures were taken, they were taken half-heartedly and not seriously.

It has also been noticed that in response to the reservations expressed by the public and media, the government' has been using that old rhetoric: 'it is because of the wrong policies of the former government". This is an old trick, which every new and incoming government uses to absolve itself of the responsibilities of its failures of good governance, law and order situation, price hike, food crisis and providing utilities at reasonable and affordable rates, by throwing the buck on to the former governments. The new government must have moral courage to accept responsibilities of the crisis emerging in their tenure. However, it is admitted that presently the upward trend of prices is largely due to the excessive rise of POL and oil products in the international market. It is also a fact that if concrete and effective policies had been evolved and implemented by the government in time, in their real sense, the negative effects on poor masses could have been lessened and softened to a great extent. Even a layman is well aware that the prices of electricity, gas and oil affect the entire population directly and a common man's life is adversely affected because the increase in prices of any type of fuel affect the cost of production and transport and its ultimate impact is on the common man, who is the ultimate sufferer.

Surely, the economic managers and policy makers drawing handsome salaries and perks & privileges from the government's exchequer are not in any way un-aware of the fact that, instead of easing out the economic burden by withdrawing subsidies previously allowed to consumers, the prices of commodities must go high and become unaffordable, which will serve no useful purpose in making the life of people easy and comfortable. The government must not have succumbed to the pressure of the international agencies for withdrawing subsidies to save the people from the adverse effects of surpassingly high prices. These subsidies were being allowed on electricity, gas, oil and some food items. Doing away with the subsidies will over-burden the over-whelming majority of people with unbearable price hike in view of our common man's take home income. Sadly and strangely Information Minister, Sheri Rehman's claim that the government's performance during its first hundred days has been matchless in the history of Pakistan, is nothing but a serious joke with the countrymen. Such statements lead to shatter the confidence and trust of people in the government in power. Only recently Pervez Ashraf, Minister for Water and Power used somewhat rough words while declaring increase in electricity tariff saying that when there is no electricity, how can we meet the electricity demand. Pervez Ashraf had already taken an initiative of scrapping the KBD Project. The case of 100 days' relief programme as announced by the Prime Minister also gives no ray of hope to the nation as only a reverse development has been noticed as prices of atta and other basic commodities are increasing with the passage of time, load-shedding is rampant, increase in the rates of electricity tariff and other utilities have further worsened the situation and affected the poor man's life.

While withdrawing subsidies by the government will cause inexplicable difficulties and miseries to common people for their subsistence and survival, the government seems to have closed their eyes from the activities of profiteers and hoarders mafia.

The lack of sense of responsibility on behalf of the government machinery is indicative from the fact that in spite of good wheat harvest, the government's target for procuring wheat could not be achieved to build up buffer stock. The present state of affairs is so bad, sad and gloomy that atta, which is the most essential food item, is not available at some places even at higher prices than fixed by the government. Public is at a loss to know where the stock of wheat stored by the government has gone and why are people unable to get atta in the open market? Why is government not serious about maintaining supply of atta to meet people's basic demand of food. It is still being felt that atta is being smuggled to Afghanistan and other neighbouring countries and perhaps no solid and effective measures are being taken to stop smuggling of this commodity.

It is the height of things that petrol, which is selling at Rs.87 per litre, according to reliable sources is made available to oil companies at Rs.32 per liter including transport and all other expenses, meaning thereby the government and the oil companies are minting extra money from the consumers at Rs.55 per liter. Similarly CNG is being made available to the filling stations at Rs.22 per kg but the poor consumers are forced to pay Rs.48 per kg, thus an additional amount of Rs.26 per kg is being squandered from the consumers. This needs to be determined as to who is the recipient of this extra amount, the government or the filling stations?. By any stretch of imagination, this cannot be termed as "profit". It is "loot and plunder". This time the price of Kerosene has gone up most steeply, by 17.4 percent from Rs.49.73 to Rs.57.93 per liter. People who do not afford installation of a gas connection at their houses, use Kerosene for cooking. This has become well night impossible for them to cook their food using Kerosene at this unaffordable price. Does the government aim at making the fat still fatter and the thin and the poor still thinner and poorer.

Pakistan is an agricultural country. Surely, cheap electricity, diesel, seed, fertilizers and other inputs are the pre-requisites for agricultural development. But the government has already enhanced the rate of tariff of electricity and the proposal for further enhancement is under their consideration while the subsidy already allowed on the electricity bills has also been withdrawn. Diesel, which in the recent past was available at Rs.20 per liter, is now being sold at Rs.68 per liter. Fertilizer, which should have been available at the maximum rate of Rs.1000 is now being sold in the local market at Rs.4000 per bag. Similar is the case with the availability and price of seed and agricultural medicines. How the hell the government can expect good harvests of our major crops when the inputs are out of reach of the farmers. Rail fares have been increased by 15 percent, while the bus and wagon fares have already been enhanced. It is in spite of the that the Prime Minister has ordered its Economic Committee to control the inflation and he has also observed that increase in the prices of gas and petrol have further deteriorated the problems and difficulties of the people. A pertinent question to the sitting government is "Is it all in line with their popular slogan of "Roti Kapra aur Makan"?.

Chief Minister of Punjab, who seems to be vibrant and active in straightening the things and solving common man's problems, must be conscious of this dreadful situation pervading and prevailing in his province. It is brought to his notice that almost all the Suzukis plying in the province are gas based but the fares being charged by them are as if they are using petrol as fuel. People should be rescued from this extortion. Suzuki owners must be bound by law. Likewise hi-aces playing in big cities and towns mostly use CNG. Their owners should also be restricted not to charge fares in accordance with the petrol and diesel run vehicles. We trust the Chief Minister would use his good offices to stop these mal-practices, thus un-necessarily stressing the commuters, and the transporters are not allowed to use their free will in escalating the fares whenever they so wish..

The situation warrants that immediate remedial measures may be taken by the government to improve the conditions so that voters who have brought the present rulers, in power, may feel satisfied that they are seriously engaged in solving their problems and alleviating their hardships. In order to provide relief to people, different types of taxes being levied on electricity, gas and petroleum products, without any justification, must be waived off and, instead of withdrawing subsidies, these should be increased. This will not only reduce the expenses on transport, but will also reduce the cost of production of different commodities and products, including industrial and agricultural products. Besides, they should also deal with profiteers, hoarders and smugglers with iron hand. People are fed up of the cosmetic approach and lip service of the authorities. They want to see solution of their problems with their own eyes and as ground realities. The terrible stories of committing suicide and people's killing their children they cannot feed is evidence of the despair that exists and these are reflective of the government's performance.