The Sunday Leader

Govt., Starts Rationing

Mahinda Rajapaksa

Mahinda Rajapaksa

An acute shortage of Samba rice has hit a Colombo suburb, with the state run Sathosa outlet in Mt. Lavinia rationing this stock to just two kilos per person, when this reporter checked on Tuesday, just three days prior to Christmas, reminiscent of the bleak 1970-77 Sirima Bandaranaike led coalition Government, when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was a young Government M.P. at that time.
“We asked for six miti (1 mitiya = 50 kg.) from head-office but got only three,” a Sathosa employee told this reporter. This variety of samba served at this outlet was almost over when this reporter checked in on Tuesday morning, while the following morning there was nothing left of it and so it was on Thursday, Christmas eve, with no stocks availabe.
The Samba referred to was the variety that has a controlled price of Rs. 70 a kg., fixed by the Government. But like the Bandaranaike Government of the past, which ruled the roost by rationing and controlled prices, that era now shows signs of re-appearing once again, with shortages, rationing and the black market, once more sprouting its ugly head.
A consumer told this reporter that this variety was available in the black market at Moratuwa at Rs. 82 a kg., while Keells Supermarket in Galle Road, Mt. Lavinia, which was giving out this stock to only known customers last Sunday, had run out of this variety by Tuesday.
But two days before Christmas it had got one mitiya (50 kg.) which was expected to be sold out by 12 noon on Christmas eve, according to a supervisor of this outlet.
But last Sunday it was giving this variety out to only ‘known’ customers. It was not available on the shelves. “Otherwise shopkeepers buy the whole lot and sell it at the black market price of Rs. 85 a kg., i.e. Rs. 15 more than its controlled price,” a Keells executive said last Sunday.
Cargills supermarket at Mt. Lavinia junction was also bereft of this variety when The Sunday Leader checked on Tuesday.  “We got three miti on Monday which was finished by Tuesday morning, a Cargills source said.
“We don’t know when we’ll get the next stock,” he said. It was the same story on Wednesday and even on Christmas eve.
However the more expensive Keera Samba which, only a few days ago was available at Rs. 113/50 to Rs. 117 a kg., had gone upto over Rs. 120 a kg. at this outlet by Christmas eve.
“The shortage springs from Polonnaruwa, one of the country’s major rice producing areas,” a supermarket source told The Sunday Leader.
Just a week before Christmas, the Government waived the duties on rice imports, in a move that appears to be “too little, too late,” with supermarket outlets in this suburb either being bereft of  this cheaper variety of Samba, or getting limited stocks, which was soon gobbled-up.
Knowing that seasonal demand is not something that is unusual, should not the Government have had been ready for such a contingency weeks before, rather than waiving off rice import duties just a week before Christmas?
Out of step with the masses and reality?

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