A long wait for rice

The queue of people for OMS product in the capital's Paribagh areaSuvra Kanti Das

It was 7.30am in the morning, when a crowd of around 30 people was seen standing on the road behind the Motalib Plaza in the capital’s Paribagh area.

There were women, elderly people and youths among them. And there were rows of brick chips in front of them.

Speaking to them, it was learnt that they stood in the queue to buy rice at subsidised price from trucks run by Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB).  Many came there at dawn.

One of them is Abdur Rab. He is almost 70-year-old. He said he stood in the queue just after the Fajr prayer. This was the first time he came to buy rice at a subsidised price as the household expenses skyrocketed.

However, he couldn’t buy rice on Wednesday as the TCB didn’t go there. None of them knew when the truck would come either. Therefore, many stand in the queue for TCB products every day and go back after waiting for four to five hours.

The number of people standing in the queue rose to nearly 100 from 30 by 11.00am. However, all of them had to return empty-handed as the truck didn’t go there.

The Directorate General of Food runs this programme to sell rice at a subsidised price under the open market sale (OMS) programme. Rice is sold at a price of Tk 30 per kg and flour at Tk 18 per kg. One customer can buy five kg rice and four kg flour at the maximum cost of Tk 222. The price for the same amount of rice and flour would be more than Tk 500 in markets.

The Directorate General of Food sells rice and flour at subsidised prices every year. However, the lines in front of the OMS trucks were never this long before the coronavirus outbreak. The line was not so long even in 2020 and 2021.

Taslima Begum, who brought her10-month-old child in her arms, said that her husband gets a salary of Tk 9,000 per month. It’s very tough to run the family with that money or feed the children well. She will be able to save some money if she can buy rice at a comparatively lower price, she says.

Speaking to Prothom Alo while returning home after waiting for a long time at Paribagh for an OMS truck, Taslima Begum said, “I came here at 7.00am for the last two days. However, the truck didn’t come. It did not come today either and they did not get any rice.”

The impact of price hikes on people’s life came up in several researches. The World Food Programme (WFP) said in October that some 68 per cent of people were struggling to buy food. Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) said in a seminar on 9 November that some 32 per cent of the total income of the extremely poor people is spent on rice.

According to the figures of Trading Corporation of Bangladesh, the minimum price of coarse rice was Tk 30 per kg in January 2020, which has increased to Tk 46 now. However, the minimum price of 1 kg of coarse rice was found to be Tk 55 in Kathalbagan market. The price of flour is Tk 65 per kg in that market, which was below Tk 30 even during the beginning of the year.

Md Mamun, a seller of a shop named Sadia Rice Agency in the market, told Prothom Alo, “The prices of rice and flour are rising simultaneously in the market, which is unprecedented. Therefore, the amount of sales is falling.”

Meanwhile, the people, who stood in line in front of the market for TCB products, could not buy rice that day as the truck didn’t come.

Flour is finished by noon

The rice from the Directorate General of Food is being sold in various spots. People were seen rushing in front of the OMS trucks in the capital’s Panthapath, Shewrapara and Kazipara areas. People had to stand in lines since dawn in every place.

For instance, some 40 people were standing in a line in the Shewrapara metro rail station area at around 7.30am on Wednesday. Many had serial numbers on their hands, which were given by themselves. The OMS truck arrived at 9.30am. As soon as the truck reached there, everyone started rushing and the line broke down.

Standing near the truck of OMS in Shewrapara from morning to afternoon, it was seen that around 250 people managed to take five kg of rice and two packets (4 kg) of flour till 1.00pm.

After that the distributors started selling only rice as the flour was finished by then. Many were standing there in line till 4.30pm without even eating.

All the products brought by the truck were finished by 5.00pm. Three people had to return without any rice. Those who got rice had to wait for at least three hours.

According to the distributors of the Directorate General of Food, each of them gets two thousand kg of rice and one thousand kg of flour daily. It is distributed at designated places. However, the places for distribution are not fixed. According to the information given on the website of the Directorate General of Food, rice and flour are sold at 200 places in Dhaka city through OMS trucks and shops.

Md Abu Sayeed is one of those three who could not buy rice despite standing in the line for hours in Shewrapara. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, “I am sick. I cannot stand in the line for long. Therefore, I came here in the afternoon. However, I didn’t get any rice.”

The OMS rice is also sold in shops through the distributors. Visiting two such shops in the capital’s Kazipara and Shewrapara, it was seen that more than two hundred people had queued up in a line in front of each of the shops.

Among the people queuing up in front of the OMS trucks and distributors' shops were the poor and the low income people as well as fairly affluent people, who are now in trouble.

Asma Mustafiz, a resident of the Kathalbagan area said, “I have been suffering from diabetes for 15 years and I need to have bread as meals. However, the price of flour has doubled. Therefore, I eat bread once a day now instead of having twice.” 

Jasmine Begum, who runs a temporary tea stall in Shewrapara, said, “There is no rice at my home. Therefore, I came here instead of running my shop. There will be no food at my home if I fail to buy rice from here.”

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu