It is really worrying how the rising prices of essential food items have continued to afflict ordinary people over the last few weeks. According to a report by this daily on Tuesday, during this time, the prices of almost all kitchen items have increased by 10 to 70 percent. Unable to cope with the high prices, people from low-income backgrounds are gathering at the TCB selling points to buy these items at subsidised prices. But unfortunately, many of them are returning empty-handed, as the stocks at Open Market Sales (OMS) points run out before they can reach the trucks selling the items.
It is not only the low-income people who are struggling with the spiralling food prices. Our reporters have talked to people involved in small businesses and found how they are also limiting their protein intake to cope with the situation. As more and more people are compromising with the quality of food they are eating, they are bound to suffer from malnutrition and other health issues as a result.
A survey by the Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and the Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) has found that around 24.5 million people have been pushed into poverty in Bangladesh because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although people have now returned to work, many are doing inferior jobs with lower pay, according to experts. This—the sharp fall in their income together with the sharp increase in food prices—means a double blow that they have no way of overcoming—without state support, of course.
Although the government has been saying that they are taking measures to control the food prices, there is still no sign of the prices going down. It is also incomprehensible why the traders would not sell their products at the government-fixed rates. For instance, when the government fixed the price of sugar at Tk 74-75 two months back, the trader immediately started selling the item at Tk 80-85. This means that the government has no control over the retail market. It is also not clear as to why the government is still unable to break the syndicates responsible for the unexplained increase in food prices.
While the government must act promptly to keep our local market stable, it also must take immediate measures to address the plight of the people. Expanding the government’s social safety net programmes should be the first step. The TCB is currently selling essential food items at subsidised prices via its 450 trucks, which should be increased considering the needs of the people. The government should also consider providing direct cash assistance to the extreme poor. In addition, the syndicates that have been formed around the OMS selling points must be apprehended so that they cannot buy the food items from the TCB trucks meant for the low-income people.