Once again there is a sudden rise in price of rice and other essential items preluding the mandated lockdown and as predictable as it can get an instant panic buying ensues culminating to shortage of stocks. This human behavior is inherent in our genes to survive and to fight and compete for scarce resources that are needed for sustenance. The human psychology has not evolved in that area of thought and it is likely to remain that way to ensure the survival of the fittest. In this time and age how does one create an equitable society devoid of the ruthless need to rise above others by sidestepping the common good of all? The answer lies in trying to understand the complex dynamics that our society is subjected to.
The economics of price rise and fall of a good is determined by market forces of demand and supply. However how can there be a fluctuation on a price of a product where the cost has already been fixed. To better understand this concept we need to be aware that the Maximum Retail Price of a product is arrived at by factoring costs of production, transport, taxes, and the commission for the wholesalers (who transport the goods from place of production to end user) and retailers (who takes the trouble of stocking and selling). Thus, the producer when setting the price of a product takes into considerations the interest of the various intermediaries and also keeping in mind competitive pricing to attract new consumers.
In the end the see-saw in price of products have more to do with the unethical practice of the shopkeepers taking advantage of the situation and making variables excuses in the name of unpredictable circumstances. And with regards to the social habit of panic buying before every lockdown it has to do with the ethical and moral character of an individual and it truly reflect the prevailing moral temperament of the society. The symptom of panic buying permeates irrespective of social status and the economic index of a country. A good example would be the hoarding of toilet papers in western countries. Legally a dishonest shopkeeper is liable to various provisions of the law whereas the practice of panic buying may not have a locus standi. I hope this clears the air for now, but it doesn’t end there yet.
A few years ago there was a panic buying of salt based on rumors. Let us try to understand why we are so susceptible to rumor mongering and panic buying. The first is the geographical isolation of our state and the different community that exist within it. Our state devoid of any sea port has to rely on road to transport its necessities albeit the presence of a rail network. Though having an international trade center, there is no trade in basic necessities due to differences in currency exchange rate. Thus, the state has to rely on three national highways that pass through the state, the motorable condition of which is not always in the best shape due to monsoon rains and landslides. And the highway also passes through the settlement of different communities and it has been noted that due to their underlying grievances with the state government they resort to stalling the movement of goods carriage as a form of protest.
Keeping in mind the above factors it create a fear psychosis among the public that there can be a rise in price or shortage of goods at any point of time and this led to panic buying. Meanwhile the retailers taking advantage of the situation resort to black marketeering and creates an artificial shortage of goods to augment people fear till the price of a certain commodity rise to a profitable margin.
Now that we are aware of certain issues how do we combat them legally and socially? The general sentiment of the public as of today is blaming the locally elected council members and the district administration for failure to contain the price rise of commodities. If we look at the act under which the ADC was formed i.e Manipur Hill Areas Autonomous District Council Act 2000 and Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972.The Acts do not delineate about enforcing the price of a product or doling out punishment for failure to do so. The only role they play here is issuing trade license. Now with regards to the police force that draw their power from The Police Act of 1861 and also the IPC, legally I can’t speak on this matter but they definitely do not have the right to book an accused under those sections, except in the case of cheating which comes under section 415-420 of IPC Act. So where does the buck stop?
Section 36 of Legal Metrology Act 2009, is where the buck stop for us. Every state has a nodal officer to enquire and enforce this act and the central act is also substantiated by Manipur Legal Metrology (Enforcement) Rules, 2011. Complaint can be made and cases can be pursued further. And another act in consumer rights is the passing of Consumer Protection Act 2019, as per the act there is a hierarchy for filing our complaint based on the amount of dispute. The act has a provision for establishing a Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions (CDRCs) at the national, state and district levels. Is it easy to file a complaint? One need to call a toll free National Consumer Helpline number 1800-11-4000 or 14404. SMS can also be send to file a complaint at 8130009809. One can also login to file a complaint at https://consumerhelpline.gov.in or download the app. It’s that easy.
The way forward:
The trade license issuing authority can come up with a new guideline outlining that all trade license that has been issued or will be issued are subjected to observing prevailing consumer act provisions and failure to obey will result in automatic termination/cancellation of the license. This I believe will provide us with instant justice to arrest price hike and will also ingrain the fear of law among traders.
Secondly, the best way to curb the practice of panic buying and hoarding is to create social awareness and inculcate the habit of social responsibility.
Philanthropic organizations can play an active role in spreading the message using social media platform and rebuking in the form of social sanctions. The district administration should also take up their moral responsibility to inform the masses on the movement of commodities and create a conductive atmosphere and not leave the panic prone public to their own devices.
Finally, in the land of presidents and secretaries we all are aware of our constitutional rights, but are we aware of our fundamental duty? That as a citizen of this country we are expected to perform certain duties for the welfare of the society. Casting of vote during election is as much a right as it is a duty for a citizen. In the same measure reporting of price hike, malpractice of traders, adulteration of products is within the ambit of our fundamental duty. No neighbours of yours will come and change your light bulb, lest of all don’t expect some organization to do so (they have their own interest). It is our fundamental duty to report social crime. It is time to take up the mantle of citizen activism.