Could it be that the trading community of Manipur are capitalizing on the National highways?
Geography may be favourable to Manipur if she is self-reliant, but as it is not, it is too often the Achilles heel. I feel sad that the two National Highways are called ‘lifelines’ meaning our lives are dependent on them. And to add to the worries, these two lifelines are too vulnerable to landslides, blockades and piracy.
Really, on the face of it, I was horrified to buy onions at Rs 100 per kg (and this is the thousandth time) just because there was a landslide on NH2 (Imphal- Dimapur highway) at Khongnem Thana on 23 October. As I learnt, there was enough stock, and it was not new stock either. Obviously, it is plain looting.
The traders increase price at the slightest pretext. The excuses may be rumours of a lockdown (a very recent happening), a blockade, a landslide or taxes by groups. These increase may not be wholly legitimate, sometimes it is an opportunity that serves the greed of the traders.
But the unsavoury thing is when prices increase on these grounds, it goes unchecked effectively. Students organisations and other groups conducted drives, of course, but we still buy at a high price. The government passes orders against price hike, but this notwithstanding prices rise undeterred.
What then is the consequence? Commoners who are already deprived of enough money suffer? As for the upper sections of the society who are rich, it does not pinch them. To a commoner who lives on his own labour, every penny counts. A slight change in prices disturbs their budget negatively.
If Dharmasala only thinks of profits, where has the dharma gone? It is not pious to inflict injury on the already injured. Most of the sufferings of the common man is economic. They earned little but had to spend a lot. These economic miseries put them in a vicious cycle of poverty.
Perhaps it is out of the way, but a way out of poverty is low prices of essential commodities. When Dharmasala increases wholesale prices, retailers and sub-retailers in the keithels also have to increase prices. Even goods coming from Moreh. We spend too much on food and the other demon is education. The cost of vegetables is high.
If the PDS rice is not distributed at a cheap price, hunger will be widespread. Low prices of essential commodities will help reduce poverty.
It is natural for the trading community to think only of profits. However, a sense of morality is required. If their actions are not justified, it borders on criminal breach of conduct. The ideal is to think less of profit and more of service.
Of course, there are some traders who think more of giving the goods to the needy than making profits. Such magnanimous souls think of the social good. And I might mention one such trader who is bald headed, stout and very sturdy. He is never irritated by customers’ demands and paces up and down his shop innumerable times, which if stretched straight might reach Dimapur, as he joked.
On the contrary, there are traders who only think of maximizing profits. But given that the per capita income of Manipur is only about Rs. 7000/- a month, ranking 30th in India, the purchasing power of the public is low. Only a few in whose hands wealth is concentrated can meet the whimsical increase of prices.
So, the trading community should think of the vast number of commoners whose snapshots of misery are writ large, before deciding to increase prices at the slightest pretext. There should be some morality in business too. Without which, the state cannot promote the social good and wipe out the tears of the suffering people as the chief minister promised last week at an election rally at Wangoi A/C.
The writer is a freelance writer and journalist