With the Srinagar-Jammu remaining closed for the fifth consecutive day Sunday, a major scarcity of essential commodities is being felt in markets across Kashmir, and also resulting in selling of perishables at highly exorbitant prices. While markets remained closed due to widespread snowfall on Thursday and Friday, shops were shut on Saturday due to a strike called by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) to mark the sixth hanging anniversary of Muhammad Afzal Guru.
As the shopkeepers opened their shutters in Srinagar and other areas of the Valley on Sunday, scores of consumers said "there is open loot going on in the markets".
Groups of customers said shortage of essentials like mutton and chicken was witnessed in most markets, including those in commercial hub of LalChowk and Batamaloo in Srinagar.
However, several consumers who this reporter talked to complained that in absence of mutton and chicken, shopkeepers and vendors selling fish and vegetables are indulging in overpricing and profiteering.
Aamir Majeed, a resident of Hyderpora here, said following the highway closure, rates of vegetables have skyrocketed.
"Checking squads formed by the government authorities are missing from the ground," he said.
Most chicken shops in Srinagar areas have kept their outlets closed owing to unavailability of stocks.
"As soon trucks laden with chicken reached the markets recently, the entire stock got exhausted soon and was sold at very high prices. I bought chicken for Rs 150 per-kilogram from Hyderporachowk and was told that it is local production," said Basit Ahmad.
The demand for fish has increased, making fisherwomen along the Amira Kadal (in Srinagar) to dictate terms to the customers, many aggrieved consumers said on Sunday.
A visit to several markets in Srinagar Sunday revealed that vegetables are being sold at much higher prices than those fixed by the government. Tomato was being sold at Rs 60 per-kilogram at Amira Kadal by most of the vendors while Peas were selling at Rs 50 per-kg at Batamaloo.
Similarly, Capsicum was selling at Rs 60 per-kg, Carrots Rs 30 per-kg, PotatosRs 30 per-kg, Onion Rs 30 per-kg, Cauliflower Rs 50 per-kg, Green chilies Rs 100 per-kg, BrinjalRs 70 per-kg, at markets in the city-centreLalChowk and elsewhere.
These rates are much higher than those fixed by the government for these items.
"Every time the highway is closed, shopkeepers increase prices of commodities as per their wishes. Why can't the government invoke essential commodities Act to keep a check on price hike? I purchased a boiled egg on a roadside stall for Rs 10 which ideally should not cost more than Rs 5," said GhulamNabi from Pulwama. Even prices of fruits, following the road closure, have skyrocketed.
Director, consumer affairs and public distribution department Muhammad QasimWani said their checking teams have conducted several surprise checks.
"Some people are creating misinformation about the price hike," he claimed, adding: "I personally visited Batamaloo market on Saturday after I was informed that a layer chicken was being sold at Rs 550 per-kg. I found that it was being sold at Rs 200 per kg."
"When our checking squads reach a shop, the shopkeepers sell things at notified prices but the moment the teams leave the spot, they indulge in overpricing," Wani, however, added in the same breath.
He also admitted that due to road closure, shopkeepers are indulging in overpricing. "Joint teams formed by the administration are active in the markets, but people also need to cooperate and inform us about overpricing, if any," he said.