IN the backdrop of country-wide protests against ‘back-breaking’ inflation and clashes witnessed due to mishandling of the TLP issue, the Government has reiterated its commitment to provide relief to the masses.
During a meeting in Lahore, Prime Minister Imran Khan directed Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to speed up efforts to provide people relief from inflation, adding that the Government was fully aware of the sufferings of the people due to price-hike.
Later, briefing newsmen, Minister of State for Information Farrukh Habib quoted him as saying “Price Control Committees have been mobilized at the district and tehsil levels to control inflation and indiscriminate crackdown on profiteers and hoarders will continue.”
The Government has long been making pledges to provide relief but the kind of relief that people expect from an elected Government is nowhere in sight.
The price-hike is not a sudden phenomenon as pressure has been building on the common man for the last three years but it seems either the Government is not comprehending the plight of the people in the right perspective or it is not willing to offer genuine relief as it is relying solely on the rhetoric of drawing comparisons with other countries and the mantra of ‘targeted subsidies’.
The problem is not as simple as the Government tries to portray it and a glimpse of it can be witnessed in large-scale participation of the people in the protest demonstrations organized by the opposition political parties.
It is a classic weakness of the Government that it has created an issue itself, which is being agitated by all the opposition parties alike despite their differences on other issues.
The opposition seems to be united on the issue of protests against the price-hike and understandably so as it has become No. One problem for the masses.
The PTI can take refuge behind the lame excuse that Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has its own political agenda and designs in mobilizing people but now PPP, which was lending tacit support to the continuity of the system, is also on the road and Jamaat-e-Islami also held rallies on Friday against the menace of price-hike.
The protests being organized by the opposition parties and the TLP can turn into an issue of law and order if the authorities concerned continued with their existing approach of insensitivity to the plight of the people.
Already major cities and towns were shut on Friday either due to the protests or because of precautionary security measures undertaken by the Federal and Provincial governments and local administrations.
Disruption of the transport system (including metro bus services in Rawalpindi) and suspension of Internet service is hurting routine life.
The Government can hardly afford to sit idle in the last two years of its tenure when it has to implement a number of projects and programmes.
It has to deliver to show to the voters in the next general election as to what it has done to improve the quality of their life and progress and development of the country.
The directions given by the Prime Minister to the Chief Minister of Punjab to check price-hike are understandable as after the 18th (constitutional) Amendment, price control is the provincial subject.
We may, however, point out that the price situation is regularly monitored by the National Price Monitoring Committee, which meets under the chairmanship of the Finance Minister and all the provinces are represented at the forum.
Why this mechanism did not produce the desired results and why Price Control Committees were not mobilized earlier at tehsil and district levels.
It is an undeniable fact that some unscrupulous elements in the business community are at the heart of the problem of artificial price-hike as they tend to squeeze maximum profit out of policy changes by the Government and meaningful relief can be provided to the people if they are taken to task.
At the same time, the Government should encourage a comprehensive and result-oriented debate in Parliament on the issue of inflation and how to check it effectively.
Similarly, the Prime Minister and other relevant governmental authorities might consider initiation of intensive interaction with economic experts on ways and means to address the challenge and provide genuine relief to the masses.