When I met Shahidul Alam (not his real name), one of my neighbours, last Friday at Norda Kitchen Market while buying fish, I didn’t talk, just smiled to him. But he didn’t smile back. I thought he is little distracted. I became busy in buying other daily grocery items. While coming back I found him standing in the same place with the same oblivious expression! Shahidul Alam, an insurance company executive, is a friendly guy who has a sensitive mind as well. Sometimes he comes to my place and we spend quality time together. His confounded attitude astonished me. I approached him and asked, “What happened brother?” He replied, “Nothing!” It took me ten minutes to know about what he was thinking. In response to my repeated questions he answered that his ailing father-in-law is coming to Dhaka. Local doctors referred him to a senior physician and he may need an operation to cure completely. That means his father-in-law will stay at least 10-15 days in his house. Alam earns a limited amount of money. A big portion of his salary is spent for house rent and educational expenses of his two children. With rest of the money he struggles to run his family every month. In addition, the recent price hike of essential commodities has made his task tougher. Skyrocketing price of rice has not lowered down to an affordable level yet. Moreover, the price of wheat, onion, chili, vegetables, fish, meat and different grocery items has soared up. Shahidul Alam thought he somehow could manage the family expenditure. He could buy some eggs instead of fish, but during his father-in-law’s stay at his place he has to arrange good foods every day. As it is the first part of the month, money will not be a problem. He is worried about the consequence of this additional expenditure in the later part of the month. I saw a reflection of helplessness on his face.
Shahidul Alam is not alone. Millions of people who belong to lower or lower-middle income group are going through the same experience. Due to the unexpected price hike of a number of essential commodities they are passing a real tough time. In our country, when the holy month of Ramadan approaches, the price of essential commodities like gram, sugar, soybean oil, date, different fruits and vegetables, lentil, fish and meat soars skyward troubling the life of the common people to an unimaginable extent. Ahead of Eid-ul-Azha, the price of fine rice, soybean oil and various kinds of spices increases. Before and after the national budget, we see the price hike of some products which are proposed to be increased. But the price of these products increases even before the budget implementation deadline begins. On the other hand, price of the products proposed to be reduced remains the same. Till date people were familiar with the sudden price hike of some certain commodities before a few occasions. But the recent hyper inflation has proved that if the government doesn’t regulate the market properly, it can be instable in any time of the year.
While visiting Mohammadpur Krishi Market bazaar, this correspondent found that albeit the price of rice has been reduced a little bit in the wholesale level but still the consumers need to spend Tk 3100-3200 to buy 50 kg of fine rice. Earlier, price of 50 kg of fine rice was soared up to Tk 3400. Price of coarse rice was jumped to Tk 2600 per 50 kg, which has now been declined to Tk 2200-2300 per 50 kg. Price of rice was increased in excuse of 20 lakh tonnes of rice damage due to early flash flood. The stock of rice was turned down in the government warehouses and observing the situation rice millers and traders increased the price of rice. Later, the Ministry of Food reduced the import duty to import rice from the international market and conducted operation against the greedy millers who illegally hoarded rice. After continuous efforts from the part of the government the price of rice has declined, but it is yet to come down to a tolerable level. Consumers could depend on wheat or flour as the price of rice has increased, but the price of wheat and flour have also climbed up. Price of wheat has increased Tk 300 in per 50 kg and the price of flour has gone up by Tk 210 per 50 kg. Wheat was sold at Tk 25 per kg in the wholesale market, which has now been increased to Tk 30 per kg. A packet of 2 kg wheat of different brands was sold at Tk 58 earlier, but we found the price soared to Tk 65 last Monday at Hatirpool bazaar.
Moreover the price of various fishes has suddenly jumped up in an alarming way. Fish traders have claimed that every year when the rainy season comes to an end, then the price of fishes increases. This year throughout the rainy season middle-class consumers went back home after buying a big or middle size hilsa, as a result price of other fishes was reasonable. But when the ban on hilsa fishing began, traders of other fishes understood that this is their time and the fish market shot up further. Especially price of the fresh fishes collected from rivers is going high. Only financially solvent persons can buy the fishes like goby, mystus, snakehead murrel, catfish, pama croaker and shrimp. For the people of lower economic class, there are fishes like yellowtail catfish, cultivated climbing perch and tilapia, but even the price of these fishes have soared up by Tk 20-30 per kg.
In the meantime consumers are facing the worst experience in the vegetable market. Apart from potato there is no vegetable in the market which is sold at less than Tk 60-70 per kg. Thus it is creating a huge pressure on the middle and lower middle class people. Chili has become the spiciest item with an unbelievable rate of Tk 250 per kg. Besides, vegetables like string bean, ribbed gourd, snake gourd, teasle gourd, palwal, sponse gourd, orka, cucumber and radish have been sold at Tk 70-80 per kg! Vegetable traders were seen claiming Tk 60 to 80 for a wax gourd, sweet gourd and bottle gourd in the Karwan Bazaar kitchen market! Even the price of different spinaches has reached such a level that is almost untouchable for a lower or lower-middle income group consumer. To buy a truss of any spinach, whether it is bottle gourd spinach, Indian spinach or spinach, one has to spend more than Tk 40! One of the main reasons of instability in the vegetable market is the scarcity of supply of vegetables in the North Bengal markets. Traders have stated before winter season there is no possibility that the price of vegetables will get reduced.
Under these circumstances reality has become very harsh for the mass consumers of the country. The Ministry of Food has failed to assess the rice market and the probable consequences of a flood on it. Neither they collected adequate amount of rice from the farmers nor did they import rice from the international market to increase their stock in time. Albeit finally they took some steps including operating OMS programme through TCB but all these seem too late and less effective. Government has no control on the fish market. Meat traders have been fixing the meat price ignoring the price settled by the city corporations. Middlemen are always active to take the benefit out of the crisis in the vegetable market. And retail vegetable vendors also concentrate on their own profit instead of thinking about the agony of their customers.
Well, ‘demand and supply’ is perhaps one of the most fundamental concepts of economics and it is the backbone of a market economy. When the demand of a product rises, but supply falls down, then the price increases. Sometimes though the supply of a product remains smooth but the traders stock that particular product to create an artificial crisis. And it has been a common allegation that in Bangladesh traders does it through formulating a syndicate. When the price of one commodity increases in the market and the traders of that particular product make a quick buck out of the situation, government doesn’t take any action against them. Then the businessmen of other products also intend to follow the same path. It happens because of lack of strong monitoring and effective drive against the unscrupulous businessmen. Though the Ministry of Commerce directed all kitchen market authorities to display a price list on a board and update it, but no such list is available in the markets. And no visible step has been found yet on behalf of the government and the Tariff Commission to control this abnormal price hike and protect the consumer rights. Such an instable situation in the kitchen markets has created enough sufferings for the mass purchasers. It cannot continue in this way. The helpless people hope that the government will think about the poor consumers and take effective steps to save them from this never-ending cycle of price hike.