Rising commodity prices have plunged a large number of people into an endless crisis. These people are looking for relief around the TCB truck. But sometimes the needy people of the city have to return with a broken heart even after spending their time in vain. We, the innocent civilians, are watching, the patriotic ministers are watching sideways while sitting in expensive cars, the bureaucrats in suited-booted superpowers are watching the dire scenario too.
Corona’s push has shaken the world’s economy and market system. Naturally, the situation in Bangladesh is no different since we have to rely on imports for most of the daily commodities. As a result, people have to burn in the fire of rising commodity prices. The Ukraine-Russia war situation was fueled by that fire. Even then some questions remain. For example, paddy production has improved, stocks are sufficient, so there is no shortage; but why do ordinary people have to struggle to buy rice? The answer may be two – either the government has not provided accurate information on production and stocks, it is showing additional statistics or it has created this instability by syndicating in the market.
The rise in prices of fuel oil, edible oil, etc. in the world market is one reason but not the only reason. It can be seen that even in the season when rice is the main food grain of the country, even after importing rice to keep the price moderate, the price of rice in the market is on the rise. It is clear that there is a manipulation somewhere which has got publicity in the name of Syndicate. With the price of goods, people’s burden is increasing as well. Gas, electricity, water prices and public transport fares are out of reach.
Two years ago, the price of five liters of edible oil was 500 tk, now it is more than 800 tk. The reality is that many people have to live on less food, no matter how much GDP and per capita income continue to grow. For two years, the corona virus had set the market on fire. After the fire was brought under control, it flared up again because of the Russia-Ukraine war. In Corona, the income of most people has decreased. Many have not been able to return to the path of income. The middle class is in a state of suffocation as almost all kinds of things are becoming more and more expensive.
At present, TCB trucks are providing 2 liters of soybean oil, 2 kg of sugar, 2 kg of lentils and 3-5 kg ??of onion per person. Oil is priced at Tk 110 per liter, sugar at Tk 55 per kg, lentils at Tk 65 per kg and onion at Tk 30 per kg. The prices of these products are several times higher in the market.
Information plays the biggest role in market management. How much demand there is for a product, how much supply there is, how much it increases at any time, when the crisis intensifies, all these information should be with the Ministry of Commerce and those concerned. The people are also expecting a transparent decision of the government on the issue that the entire market of daily commodities including oil and sugar has been taken hostage by some companies. They sell goods in the market, they go to the ministry again and sit with the government officials and raise the price as they like. The whole process is not transparent. The thing is that those who are playing on the field are again in the role of referee.
Another factor influencing the market is extortion, which traders often say. To reach a product from a marginal area to a big city and Dhaka, one has to pay various taxes. The money is taken by middlemen, political elites, the transport mafia, the gangsters controlling the raw materials market.
The government is selling goods at low prices in TCB trucks. But the goods of TCB trucks are less than the demand of people. That is why the news of chaos is coming up in the media almost every day. It seems necessary to move towards a permanent management.
The most talked about product of recent price hike is edible oil. Soybean oil prices have risen more than once in the country due to rising prices in the international market. Even then there is no soybean oil in the market now. They cannot afford to buy bottled soybean oil due to high prices. Then the line of people behind the TCB truck will be longer and longer. People are standing for hours in the hope of TCB’s truck, no one is getting it, no one is getting it, they are getting involved in clashes and people are running like crazy behind the truck, attacking the moving truck. As if there is a famine in the country!
The soybean oil market is dominated by a handful of companies. As a result, it is not difficult for the government to control this market. Why the government could not do that? On the contrary, the head of the government agency sat down and claimed that thousands of crores of taka had been laundered from the market. So, who squandered this money by creating an artificial crisis? They must be brought in light & held accountable. From time to time, particular products disappear from the market sometimes salt, sometimes sugar, sometimes onion. Once in the name of each product is looted, the savings of the middle class are emptied.
The mobile court is conducting a market operation in the market to control the situation. Now will this circus stop immediately? The month of Ramadan is yet to come. Will the manipulation continue till then? Traders of any other product must be waiting for their turn! No matter how much we are bewildered by the success of irresistible development, everyone knows that more than sixty percent of the MPs in Parliament are businessmen. Their warning that the money launderers will not be spared, it is doubtful whether it will remain an empty word in the end.
If the total income of a country is divided among all the people of the country, then the per capita income is what falls into the share of each. In other words, the income of an industrialist and a beggar is equal! The calculation is that the income of the person running behind the TCB truck and the income of the person passing by them in the car are also taken as the same. In other words, the defaulters of thousands of crores of taka, the looters of the country’s financial resources, the looted money of the stock market looters are also sworn as the average wealth of the society and ten people as per capita income.
In a country like Bangladesh, where income inequality is evident, the issue of per capita income is just a cover, there is nothing inside. Bangladesh’s remarkable position in the world shows how the economy is being controlled by one class. Per capita income has risen on paper, with no end in sight in the lives of people who have been standing in line behind TCB trucks all day hoping to save some money.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) wage index, human wages have increased by an average of 61 percent in the fiscal year 2020-21 compared to the fiscal year 2010-11. If the average wage was 10 thousand in 2010, it has increased to 16 thousand 630 in 2020-21; and inflation? In the 2010-11 financial year, the product that was available at 100 tk, now people have to pay tk. 184 to buy it. In other words, the rate of wage increase has surpassed the rate of inflation.
Per capita income, purchasing power- these ‘higher numbers’ are not understood by the common man, their survival is largely accountable; No account matches them. They struggle to make a living by calculating rice-oil-salt; similarly, Bangladesh’s transition from a low-income country to a low-middle-income country, beyond their comprehension.
In this situation, it is important for the government to show strictness. It is the responsibility of the government too to look after the interests of the common man, no matter what the price of essential commodities may be. Experts have repeatedly called for increased market control so that no one can raise prices by creating an artificial crisis in the market.
The authorities should sell a lot of products in the open market at low prices through its own channels. The small amount of products currently sold through TCB has not had any effect on the market. It is necessary to make arrangements for the sale of daily necessities in the open market, not in small urban areas, but in remote areas. We need to be vigilant now so that no syndicate can destabilize the market anew during Ramadan.
The writer is independent analyst on national & international issues.