Rice, flour, egg, potatoes not included

A committee of commerce ministry has been working on correcting the government list of daily essentials for a year but no report has been drawn up as yet

Actual essentials commodities

Cigarettes, coal and wood are some of the daily essentials for the people of Bangladesh, says a government list of daily essentials drawn up 67 years ago. The list also products items like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bay leaves that are used in cooking every day.

But as per ‘The Control of Essential Commodities Act, 1956’ the list has not recognised items like rice, paddy, wheat, flour (atta), eggs, soap, detergent powder and toothpaste as daily essential products though people need these regularly and in large amounts.

Since independence, successive governments in Bangladesh made very little change in the act. The government amended the list once in 2012. That time 17 goods including sugar, salt, onion, chickpeas, and red chilli were included in the list of essential commodities. But as the law remains unchanged, some nonessential commodities like cigarettes and wood were not excluded from the list.

Three ministries, The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTTC) have sent a proposal to the commerce ministry to update The Control of Essential Commodities Act, 1956.

Speaking to Prothom Alo before leaving the country for Doha to attend the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5), commerce secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh said, “A commerce ministry committee has been working to amend the list of essential goods. We hope some new commodities will be added this time and some be excluded.”

Just the list, not the law, will be changed this time too, according to the commerce secretary.

Speaking about differences on including the items on the list, commerce ministry officials said the government can at any time take action to curb prices of the commodities mentioned in the list. That’s why it is possible to take legal action if anyone hoards any product or tries to create an artificial crisis of it for additional profit.

The committee, headed by commerce ministry’s additional secretary Nusrat Zabin Banu, was formed one year ago. Member secretary of the committee is Shamim Akter, joint controller of the same ministry. Nusrat Zabin Banu recently joined as director general of WTO (World Trade Organisation) wing of the ministry.

Several sources from the ministry said amending a law is a huge task but updating the list requires at best one month. The face that the list could not be updated even in one year means the committee is negligent.

Nusrat Zabin could not be reached over phone. She did not even respond to the SMS sent to her.

Speaking about this, Tapan Kanti Ghosh said, “We hope the committee will submit a report very soon and a new list of essential commodities will be drawn up based on the report.”

Meanwhile, the commerce ministry officials have been debating whether to keep or exclude cigarettes from the list. They said if it is excluded, the power of the government for taking any decision on production, marketing and price of cigarette will decrease.

Which are essential commodities?

The Control of Essential Commodities Act, 1956 enlisted 34 types of products as essential commodities. The first type is food items including oil and oilseeds. The government, however, has not clarified whether rice, paddy, flour (atta), and wheat are included or not.

Newsprint and other types of paper, fuel oil, iron, natural silk yarn, coal, medicine, bicycles and bicycle parts, cigarettes, tea, sugar, razor blades, sewing machines, infant food, school and college textbooks, cotton yarn, gas and other chemical products, electrical goods,  glass, wood, cement, sanitary fittings, tiles, film for making movies, chemical fertiliser, typewriters and so forth.

In July 2012, the commerce ministry announced 17 products as essential commodities. These are onions, garlic, lentils (masur dal), gram, red chilli, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, turmeric, bay leaves, soybean oil, palm oil, sugar and salt.

Speaking about this, Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB) president and former commerce secretary Golam Rahman said, “It is astonishing that cigarettes are still in the law that was passed in the Pakistan period. It is necessary to make the law pro-people and keep the commodities they truly use every day.”

Golam Rahman also said products that are harmful for health have to be excluded from the list. The whole law has to be amended.