THE government has increased the prices of wheat flour, sugar and ghee by 25 to 62 per cent for sale through the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) with immediate effect to reduce the impact of untargeted subsidies.
The beneficiaries of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) would be exempt from the price increase, while the limit for subsidised purchases from the USC has also been curtailed.
Under the new rates notified by the USC that went effective on Sunday, the price of sugar has been raised from Rs.70 per kg to Rs.89, an increase of 27pc.Likewise, the price of ghee has been jacked up by Rs.75 per kg to Rs.375, while the wheat flour price has been increased by 62pc to Rs.64.8 per kg from Rs.40 at present.
It is understood that the Government revised the prices of different items being sold by the Utility Stores Corporation in view of the market realities as the prices of these commodities were much lower than the open market.
Even after this quantum jump in rates, the prices are still below the market rates but the majority of people have been deprived of an opportunity to buy essential items from USC outlets at affordable rates.
The decision to exempt beneficiaries of BISP from the latest increase is also appreciable as they are the most disadvantaged people of the society and their interests need to be protected.
The latest measure are in line with overall thinking among the policy-makers and planners that subsidies should be targeted and meant for the poorest segment of the population.
For this purpose, a special mechanism has been devised to avert misuse of the subsidy for the poor through the USC outlets.
The customers of USC would be required to secure their monthly purchase eligibility before visiting the store through an SMS on 5566 so that they are provided with a one-time password and national identity card confirmation to avail the USC’s subsidy.
They would be able to contact any USC outlet of their choice and avail subsidized items by showing OTPs.
This is important as unscrupulous elements used to purchase subsidized items from the outlets of the USC and sell them in the open market.
It may, however, be pointed out that the increase in prices has taken away a significant relief from those who make purchases from USC outlets and that too when there is also an overall increase in the cost of living and no increase in income.
No doubt, the Government is faced with the daunting task of managing financial affairs of the state but people have no capacity to absorb more shocks.