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Panic buying leads to depletion of stocks, customers angry over high prices

By City Correspondent

GUWAHATI, June 27 - Potatoes at Rs 100, tomatoes Rs 100, carrot Rs 160, beans Rs 120, beetroot Rs 200, egg per tray Rs 200.

An indifferent government and lax district administration seem to have given a free run to unscrupulous traders in Guwahati, as skyrocketing prices of groceries and vegetables led to widespread resentment and anger among customers a day before the 14-day lockdown begins.

Prices of commodities, particularly grocery items and vegetables, shot up steeply as panic buying among consumers continued for the second consecutive day on Saturday.

Potato, onion and tomato were sold at more than Rs 100 at several places, while many items went out of stock even before noon. Despite rains, people thronged the markets since morning to stock up essential items for the next 14 days. Residents bought items in bulk, which led to a crisis in the markets in the evening.

The unpreparedness of the Food and Civil Supplies department came to the fore as many groceries ran out of stock.

�The markets have witnessed unprecedented rush since Friday and the crowds have been unmanageable. Social distancing has gone for a toss as people jostled for space to buy groceries. This is a clear case of panic-buying and hoarding induced by the government,� said Hrishikesh Saikia, a resident of Sixmile.

�People are paying high prices mainly for vegetables. I paid Rs 120 for one kg of tomato,� another buyer said.

Potato vanished from the markets in many areas due to the panic-buying. �I visited the market at 9 am but could not get one kg of potato. There are no packaged food items like noodles or soup,� another buyer said.

�This is happening because the government just wants to harass the people. Cases of COVID-19 will double in these two days as people in groups have thronged the market defying all norms,� said an angry man queuing to buy groceries at Bhetapara Chariali.

People rushed to the markets as the government decided to stop the sale of grocery items and vegetables at least for seven days from Sunday midnight. �Will the grocery shops open during the lockdown?� several people enquired while buying food items.

A resident said that shops dealing in essential commodities such as groceries should not be shut down during the lockdown and questioned whether the government had made any arrangement of supplying essentials to people�s homes.

The absence of any rationing by the authorities resulted in affluent people taking out huge quantities of foodstuff from stores even as the lower middle class and poor are having to struggle to meet their requirements. �We have seen rich people buying huge stocks even though that is completely unwarranted. Prices have escalated due to panic buying. What is the government doing?� he questioned.

Meanwhile, mango was sold for Rs 150 per kg, and apple for Rs 200 in many areas. Some packaged items were also being sold at prices higher than the MRP, citing rise in prices in the wholesale market. �People are buying double the quantities of what they usually buy, like rice, wheat and pulses. Our sales have gone up by 60 per cent in the last two days,� a shop owner said.

A trader said that shutting down wholesale trade could trigger an artificial crisis in areas beyond Guwahati and upper Assam.

Meanwhile, the Food and Civil Supplies department feigned ignorance about the abnormal hike in prices. When contacted, Food and Civil Supplies director Manash Nath said, �There is no such increase in the prices. Some sort of hike in prices is common when people indulge in panic-buying.�

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