The trouble with Kashmir as a ‘consumer state’
With our fertile lands being increasingly used for construction and also ‘quick-bucks-crops’, the valley seems on the verge of becoming barren!
Like in all other societies, trade and commerce are a major component of our economy. Ours is a consumer State; we are short of basic needs like food, fuel, building materials etc. Of these, we produce much less than what we require for our growing population. So, we are importing from outside bulk quantities of essential consumer items like food grains, mutton, eggs, milk ,edible oil and a host of other essentials .
The shortfall in our agricultural produce is mainly because of vast swathes of our fertile land having been turned into horticulture sector that assures cash-crops with manifold increase in incomes to the growers. Besides, the rich alluvial land in the plains that was once called the “rice- bowl” of Kashmir is fast turning into residential areas as the expansion of villages and migration of city dwellers to the suburbs of cities and towns is widely taking place. Add to it low remunerative prices of agriculture produce that doesn’t equal the input costs that are very high. So, the agricultural activity has become disinteresting for peasants who were once the backbone of our rural economy. Similar is the case with sheep breeding and poultry , activities chosen as a calling by a few of the rural population because of various factors that are inimical to these activities; rising costs of inputs, animal feed and decreasing grazing areas being some of these.
Let us come directly to our trade practices which, by and large, are not fair .With all due regards to our trading community, the important section of our society, I may repeat that all is not fair in this sector of economy. Like all other callings and professions, our traders are madly in love with making quick bucks by means fair and foul; profiteering, black- marketing and compromising with quality of goods is a rampant practice ,which has its ramifications on the lives of the vast majority of people who, with meagre incomes, just keep on struggling on day to day basis to make their both ends meet. In other words, most of their earnings are spent on acquiring basic needs and little is left with them to seek little comforts of life.
There is no denying the fact that we are living in times of free-trade economy. Prices of goods are fixed by market forces with the principle of ‘ demand and supply ‘ in the market place at any point of time. Naturally, the prices of commodities fluctuate on a daily or weekly basis. To the traders, let it be made clear that a consumer doesn’t qualify to question the authentic fixation of prices by the controlling trade authority. But it is killing to see the retailers fiddle with price-tags and imposing new ones with malafide intentions. Similarly hawkers and street vendors who sell things from fruit to spices, observe no trade ethics as everything sells at exorbitant rates. Moreover, during inclement weather conditions and the resultant closure of Jammu-Srinagar highway which is a frequent occurrence, especially in winters, hording and black marketing leads to further impoverishing the poor customer who never knows what price a commodity should sell at. It is here that the role of govt comes into play. The deptt of trade and commerce and the consumer’s affairs deptt , as mandated by the rule-book , should make public a comprehensive rate- list and the concerned field agencies should be vigilant enough to ensure fair prices in market places . Black sheep from among the traders should be duly punished for their black acts.
Coming to traders themselves, it is their duty to keep conscience. Honestly speaking, nobody would expect that they do away with their genuine margin of profit. They should charge fairly and honestly as they are a part of the society. They should know that their acts of omission and commission in trade may trigger a chain reaction of other evil practices in the society as a whole which is an anathema to a vibrant and civilised way of living.