LAHORE - Worst scarcity of fruits, vegetables, and spiraling prices of the essential commodities have dampened Ramazan festivities, forcing the households across Pakistan to shrink Iftar meals. Despite escalating prices, vegetables and fruits were in short supply at the Ramazan Bazaars and even in the open market on Monday while sugar and flour were not available at the special makeshift markets and utility outlets. Market sources said that sugar also disappeared from the shops and stores in most parts of the City while it was being sold at Rs 52 to Rs 55 per-kg against its fixed retail price of Rs 47 at few shops in the open market. Furit-chart, dahi bhallay, pakoray, samosay, dates, juices, milk and soft drinks remained common food to serve at Iftar in most parts of the country few years back, but now have gone beyond the reach of common man even the middle-class. The soaring prices of commodities like cooking oil, sugar, basen, flour and meat this year has badly affected the purchasing power of the people, leaving them with no other option but to break the fast in a hand to mouth way. About two years ago, we used to decorate dining table with delicious Iftar dishes before heaving a proper dinner. But now it has become too difficult to manage, Saima Anjum, mother of three and teacher at a school in the Walled City, said. Anjum Ali, her husband, is a junior clerk at a private leather factory with Rs 8000 per month salary. At least 80 per cent of our monthly income is consumed on paying utility bills and food items while the rest of the income we spent on traveling from workplaces to our residence, Anjum said, adding, I had got another job as a waiter at a local restaurant to pay the school fees of my children. Life is getting tougher with every passing day. We often think what is going to happen with us in the future as we hardly meet both the ends despite tightening our belts, Anjum said while sitting in the narrow street outside his three-marla house in Mozang area. We are not going to buy new clothes on this Eid. I am sewing the clothes at night to earn money so that I could purchase new clothes at least for the kids, she said. Long queues of poor around the commodity-laden trucks at the Ramazan Bazaars have become a routine matter here in the Punjab Capital. The government has set up special makeshift markets to provide food items to the people at affordable rates but the gap between the demand and supply is worsening the situation, as the buyers are humiliated and in some cases baton-charged while getting sugar packets and flour bags at subsidised rates. The people also complained that the flour bags and sugar packets being sold at special makeshifts are substandard. To get a flour or sugar bag from the trucks at special bazaars is not only hard nut to crack but also an open invitation to publicly humiliation, Rahmat Bibi, a 55-year-old housewife said at Johar Town Ramazan Bazaar. It is to be noted here that unlike western countries where prices are lowered up to 50 per cent when any national festival arrives, Pakistani trade community has setup a custom of record price hike. Not only in Ramazan but also off-season the hoarders of essential commodities take full advantage of this opportunity particularly when they are aware that the stocks of some edible items available with the government are short or insufficient. Same is happening with sugar at present, said Dr Naveed, a senior doctor at a public hospital in the City. High prices at the retail level are the real issue confronting the people with potential to spoil their holy month. Even before the start of Ramazan, the prices of meat, vegetables and fruits, not to speak about the sugar crisis, have gone up substantially. Most of the items used in Ramazan are already out of the reach of ordinary people even for the middle class the prices are unbearable. At Ramadan Bazars, the price of different items were registered at Rs 5 to Rs 10 less than the open market but the quality of commodities and their continuous supply is a big question mark. The officials said that the government is ensuring direct supply from the farm and mills to these bazaars to keep the prices low. They, however, admitted that supply issue was hampering the performance of Ramadan Bazaars. They believe that the supply would improve in the next couple of days that would help redress complaints about scarcity of commodities at Ramazan Bazars. According to the market dealers, chicken meat is being sold at Rs 180 to Rs 200 per-kg while baisen (used for cooking pakoray) price has swelled to Rs 60 per-kg. Cooking oil is being sold at Rs 130 to Rs 135 per-liter, loose milk at Rs 4 per-kg to Rs 55 per-kg, Dehi at Rs 50 per-kg. Tomato, potato and tori is being sold at Rs 50 per kilogram in the open market, cauliflower at Rs 70 per kg, onion at Rs 40 per kg, guava at Rs 40 per kg, grapes at Rs 160 per kg, dates at Rs 120-180 per kg, apple at Rs 120 per kg, banana at Rs 50-60 per dozen, apricot at Rs 140-160 per kg, Peach at Rs 100 per kg and chicken at Rs 190 to Rs 200 per kg. Though the Ramazan Bazaars are attracting a large number of people throughout the day due to lesser price of essential commodities, absence of items in demand is disturbing the shoppers who have to go back empty hand.