LAHORE - Eighty seven shopkeepers were arrested for cheating customers on essential food prices in a series of police raids throughout Lahore yesterday.

The raids were carried out in Mazang, Tolinton, Baghbanpura, Dharampura and other markets as part of an ongoing campaign by the district administration’s price control magistrates to curb illegal overcharging and food adulteration.

They swooped on 1,055 shopkeepers, registered cases against 69 of them and jailed 18. Further 37 were challaned and many were fined Rs 34,500.

The sale of essential foods are tightly regulated by the district government but shops regularly flout the law to exploit shortages by hiking prices and adulterating foods – spices like red chillies, for example, are often cut with tasteless red powder, while milk and khoya are mixed with chemical colourings and dry dairy powder.

The authorities have been accused of dragging their feet over the issue but yesterday police and price control magistrates swooped on markets throughout the city.

They found that despite revised prices issued by the City District Government Lahore earlier this month, shopkeepers illegally charging upto 20 per cent higher.

The highest mark-ups were on fresh meat, inspectors found. One was selling chicken at Rs 210 per kg while the government had fixed the rate at Rs 194.

There was overcharging on fruits, vegetables and too. High quality apple were on sale for Rs 120 to Rs 130 per kg while the official rate is Rs 104 to Rs110 per kg. A dozen oranges were on sale for Rs 100 to Rs 110 while the official price is between Rs 70 to Rs74. Bananas were on offer at up to Rs 80 per dozen – almost double the official price Rs45. Grapes were being sold for Rs 170 to Rs 180 per kg,. 20 to 26 Rupees more than the official rate.

Potatoes were being sold at double the official rate too.

Despite the district government’s orders, many shopkeepers do not display price lists in their shop. Many deny they are overcharging and claim their customers are satisfied.

CDGL spokesman Imran Maqbool said FIRs and fines had been issued against shopkeepers and wholesalers.

One shopkeeper, Abdul Ghafoor said that selling at low prices was difficult because of difference in rates of wholesale markets and the prices mentioned in the government price lists. “We want a fair price, the quality is terrible and if we do not want to compromise the quality, then it is just various cost expenditures like transportation. If we are buying at exorbitant rates from the wholesale market, how can we sell at a low price?” he said.

Shopper Shakat Ali complained that shopkeepers were free to demand whatever price they wanted. “Buying from the fair price shops, Sunday bazaars or other markets has become so confusing and unaffordable for us,” he said.