Yangyel Lhaden

The arrival of onion and tomato at the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM) in Thimphu yesterday resulted in commotion that bordered on total chaos.

There has been shortage of onion and tomatoes in the country for some time due to lockdown.

The rush at the CFM happened largely because of gaps in coordination among the agencies that are suppose to handle the situation. The pandemonium had the people disregard health protocols. There was no physical distancing and many were not wearing face mask.

When patrolling teams advised the people to wear facemask and maintain physical distance, the patrolling teams got invective from the angry people.

Some shops stopped selling onion and tomato, which added fuel to the fire.

The prices of onion and tomato had also risen suddenly. The Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) received seven complaints. Tomato was selling at Nu 150 and onions at Nu 100- Nu 120. Price according to Ministry of Agriculture and Forests  (MoAF), tomato should be sold at Nu 106 and onions at Nu 60 in Thimphu.

Each shop got a sackful of onion and a tray of tomato though some shops didn’t receive onion and tomato. Some vendors, who were driven off the footpaths, were selling onion and tomato from residential buildings.

Maita Rai, a taxi driver, said that she had been out of tomato for more than two weeks and went to buy as soon as she heard the supplies has arrived at CFM. However, the vendor made her buy other vegetables if she wanted tomato. “The tomato price is already high.    

I bought spinach also for no reason.”

By evening, officials from OCP investigated the price hike to take appropriate actions against deceitful vendors.  The vegetable vendors met the official in shock and they tried to defend the reasons for hike in price.

A vegetable vendor, Tandin Zangmo, said that she got tomato and onion at higher price from her whole-seller and was not aware of price fixed by MoAF.

An official from OCP said that the shopkeepers should produce receipt for evidence so that actions to be taken on whoever was guilty.

The customers are advised to ask for receipt for evidence if vendors charge high prices and to call 1214 to launch complaints.

According to Consumer Protection Act of Bhutan 2012, for non-issuance of money receipt, the shops “ Shall be imposed a fine ten percent of the value of good subject to maximum of six months minimum wage.”

For charging higher prices, a fine equivalent to the value of the goods shall be imposed.

An official from OCP said that the marketing monitoring team in dzongkhags and gewogs were already instructed to implement the prices fixed by MoAF today.