LAHORE - The common man has started feeling the heat after the announcement of Rs 40 billion in extra taxes with merchants and manufacturers already imposing big price increases.

Opportunist shopkeepers started fleecing the citizens by increasing the prices of mostly daily use commodities immediately after new taxes were levied by the federal government, a survey of city markets divulged.

The shopkeepers put up prices of items already in stock and on the shelves. New products arriving from the manufacturers also bore higher mark-ups.

Prices of the products that have been increased by the shopkeepers and general stores’ owners include watered bottles, shampoos, soaps, toothpastes, toothbrushes, cigarettes, food items like ketchup, jams, breads, cooking oils, ghee and dozens of other daily use products.

The manufacturers may not have increased the prices yet but the shopkeepers have already done so in anticipation of price increase. For example the price of a 20-cigarette pack of Gold Leaf was being sold at Rs 115 before the announcement. Now it is being sold for Rs 125. Price of bottled water was Rs 25 but now it is being sold for Rs 20.

Some of the 61 items that have attracted fresh duties of 5-10pc are: live poultry, frozen fish including fillets and fish meat, coconuts, brazil nuts and cashew nuts, almonds, preserved meat including offal or blood, cocoa paste and cocoa butter, ground nuts, pineapples, citrus fruit, pears, apricots, cherries, peaches, strawberries, tea and coffee essences and concentrates, trunk and suit cases-brief cases apparel and clothing accessories of leather, men’s, women’s and boy’s overcoats, jackets, baby garments and clothing accessories, garments like ties, shawls, scarves, mufflers, curtains and interior blinds, tarpaulins and tents, footwear and their parts, imitation jewellery, watches, diapers and sanitary towels.

Some of the 289 items on which regulatory duty was increased from 10 to 15pc are: yogurt, butter, dairy spreads and others, cheese, curd, grated or powdered cheese of all kinds, natural honey, pineapples, avocados, guavas, mangoes, frozen mango, mango pulp, oranges, chewing gum, whether or not sugar- coated, white chocolate, cocoa powder, containing added sugar or other sweetening matter, chocolate preparation, malt extract, preparations other than in retail packing, not containing cocoa, containing eggs, vermicelli, stuffed pasta, whether or not cooked or otherwise prepared, other pasta, couscous, corn flakes, prepared foods obtained from unroasted cereal flakes or from mixtures of unroasted cereal flakes and roasted cereal flakes or swelled cereals, bulgur wheat, crisp bread, gingerbread and the like, sweet biscuits, waffles and wafers, rusks, cucumbers and gherkins, pickles, tomatoes, whole or in pieces, tomatoes paste, mushrooms of the genus agaricus, potatoes and other vegetables and mixtures of vegetables.

The already over-taxed general public views the new taxes as a burden especially the low income segment of society.

Mussarat Inayat, a school teacher and resident of Anarakali area, was visibly disturbed. “It is becoming very difficult to manage things and the news that ghee, cooking oil, yogurt and other essential items of kitchen has come as a shock. The grocery that we brought for Rs 5,000 for one month will now cost a lot more,” she was of the view.

Abid Butt, a resident of Baghbanpura who runs a garments shop, said that instead of giving relief the government is burdening people with indirect taxation. “It is hard to pay the utility bills and this taxation means that so many items will now be out of the access of middle class people like us,” he maintained.

“Who will think about labouring class, especially those having no permanent source of income and are working on daily wages if government is not going to take care of them like other countries of the world?” said Malik Ayaz, a social worker of Kot Khawaja Saeed. “We are planning development like a developed country but are not able to give relief to the masses already reeling under high inflation and no price control,” he was of the view.

A shopkeeper Sheikh Waseem of Chah Miran said this was not something new. “We will not be making money but those who knew about the increase in this mini budget will make millions by holding the items at old rates and selling them at higher rates. We the shopkeepers will continue to get the same profit margin,” he explained.

PTI rally against new taxes: PTI yesterday staged a protest rally against the new taxes imposed by the federal government which they named ‘Mini-Budget’ of Rs 40 billion.

Punjab Assembly Opposition Leader Mian Mehmood-ur-Rasheed led the rally with PTI members of the provincial assembly. The rally launched from Punjab Assembly and culminated at Chief Minister House (Aiwan-i-Wazire Ala). The protestors were holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans against Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and the IMF with demands to withdraw the new taxes.

“The rulers should cut their expenditures instead of imposing Rs 40 billion Mini Budget on the poor masses. The one-day expenditure of President, Prime Minister and Chief Minister Punjab is Rs 1 million, 1.7 million and 1.3 million respectively,” said PA Opposition Leaders addressing protestors.

He also demanded to summon the Punjab Assembly session to discuss this serious matter.

Earlier, Mehmood-ur-Rasheed submitted a resolution in Punjab Assembly secretariat concerning the issue of target killing of two Military Police personnel in Karachi at M.A. Jinnah Road the day before yesterday. The resolution said the opposition strongly condemns the act of terror and demands of the Federal and Sindh Government to arrest the culprits at the earliest for awarding them stringent punishment.

The opposition through the resolution also condoled with the families of the martyred soldiers of Military Police and prayed for the departed souls.