Relief on essential items

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LAST few days have seen Prime Minister Imran Khan daily
chairing meetings on the prices of essential commodities and on Friday, the federal government announced to provide six billion rupees immediately to Utility Stores Corporation (USC) to ensure provision of essential items including flour, ghee, sugar, rice and pulses to the people at reduced rates.
Indeed it is a positive decision taken by the government which reflects that it is not oblivious to the problems faced by the masses due to price hike. The very price hike in the open market in fact has once again reinforced the importance of the USC. A few months back some cabinet ministers were giving statements regarding the closure of the Corporation for reasons best known to them but the fact of the matter is that it is a very important platform available to the government to stabilize the prices in the open market. As the government’s package will help the USC to bring down the prices of essential commodities at its outlets across the country, it will also have a salutary impact in the open market as the market players will be forced to cut their profits and reduce the prices of essential items in order to attract the consumers to them. Undoubtedly the USC is an important instrument of price moderation in a period of high inflation. There was a time when the utility stores were not only providing commodities to the consumers at subsidized rates but were also running in profit. The cost of running the stores on an outdated model, coupled with the slashing of government subsidies, have made the stores financially unviable and unsustainable. The USC is the second largest, state-owned loss-making entity after Pakistan Steel Mills, and efforts should be made to restructure it on modern lines and turn into a profitable entity once again that serves the needs of middle and lower middle classes. It can be done by ensuring availability of quality items at the utility outlets as well as making the procurement process more transparent for which IT solutions can be adopted. Whilst we really appreciate the government for taking the first major initiative to provide relief to the lower and middle income groups, it should also do the needful to bring down the utility bills.