LAHORE - Market committees are robbing people in connivance with middlemen by creating artificial shortage of essential commodities in the open market, especially in Lahore and other big cities of the province.

Several influential groups are virtually running day-to-day affairs of wholesale markets. In the absence of an active price-control mechanism, middlemen decide rates of fruits and vegetables during the so-called auction at fruit and vegetable markets in the morning.

Although farmers have been selling their produce to wholesalers at very low rates yet rates of various essential commodities are rising in the open market.

Poor vendors are forced to buy agri-products at high prices since the ‘main brokers’ purchase most of the products directly from the growers at the time of auction and at the rate of their own choice. Ultimately, vendors are left with no other option, but to selling vegetables and fruits at higher rates in the open market.

Middlemen earning 300pc profit

Vendors say they are denied direct purchase from growers because government officials are conducting auction through middlemen. Also, vendors have to purchase fruits and vegetables from middlemen, who decide the rates to earn high profits.

“In fact, there is no shortage of supplies. Even off-season vegetables are available in large quantities. Some middlemen, in connivance with officers of the market committees, are creating artificial shortage of commodities by discouraging fair auction,” said Aslam Bhatti, a vendor in the vegetable market on Multan Road.

On the other hand, growers say they have to sell their produce to middlemen because they control the auction process. Ibrahim, a grower from Okara district who sells vegetables in Lahore’s main vegetable market, said middlemen are adding to farmers’ miseries.

“They (agents) work like a cartel. They are involved in sale and purchase of procedure. We have to sell our products to these agents because there is no fair and open auction. These agents also create problems for growers by delaying the auction process,” said Ibrahim.

Another farmer, Shafique Ahmad, said the government must facilitate growers and discourage middlemen. “Many agents transport different products to the main markets after purchasing from growers in villages and small towns. They purchase vegetables and fruits at low prices but they sell the products at very high rates. In fact, middlemen are robbing poor farmers,” he said. Ahmad blamed district governments and market committees for the mess. He said that middlemen in connivance with government officials are earning 300 percent profit on different products.

For an instance, he said, the middlemen are selling carrot at Rs 90 to Rs100 per kg in the open market after buying it at Rs 20 to Rs 30 per kg from the growers.

In recent weeks, an unprecedented uprising trend in the prices of fruits and vegetables has been seen particularly in the big cities. Almost all vegetables including tomato, cucumber, cauliflower, and cabbage, capsicum are being sold at Rs 100 to Rs 200 per kg. Normally, vegetables are sold at less than Rs 80 per kg in the market during the season.  

According to vendors, the staff of the Market Committees never visits the vegetable and fruits markets in the morning to supervise the auction process. Instead of properly monitoring the auction process on a daily basis, the government officials only visit the markets in the afternoon to get their ‘share’ from the middlemen.

In the absence of senior officers, the middlemen and the officials of the Market Committees routinely prepare the price lists. These officials are also bound to announce the rates by using loudspeakers at the time of auction but they prefer staying away from the process.

Mostly B-grade vegetables and fruits are supplied to the weekly special bazaars established in different cities of the province under the administrative control of the Market Committees. The vendors are also bound to display and follow the official rate lists but they charge customers according to their own choice due to one or another reason.

Last week, Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar took strong notice of public complaints regarding unfair price hike and ordered district governments to control negative trend of price hike. He said that Price Control Magistrates must play active role to check the prices of essential commodities in the market.

When contacted, an official of the agriculture department said that the government had decided to set up farmer markets in five big cities of the province.

This initiative would help government ensure availability of different commodities at fixed prices, he said.

He said that several farmer markets have started working in the fruit and vegetable markets in different districts where farmers would directly sell vegetables, fruits, and similar commodities without involvement of a middle man. The government, as part of this initiative, is offering free space to the growers at the main vegetable markets, he claimed.