Crowds in front of TCB trucks increase as incomes fall

While finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal doesn’t find any new poor, the long queues of men and women in front of the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh’s (TCB) trucks selling essentials clearly indicates that these people are either the new poor or on the verge of poverty. Prices of commodities including edible oil, rice, lentils and sugar are very high in the market. As a result, the ultra-poor are obviously suffering and the people of the low income bracket are at a loss.

A report of Prothom Alo revealed the dire consequences faced by people of the low income bracket. Nilufa Akter from Khaje Dewan of Old Dhaka’s Lalbagh walked two kilometres to Palashi Bazar to buy daily essentials from a TBC truck. She bought two litres of soybean oil and two kilograms of sugar and lentils, thus saving Tk 178. She was not alone. Men and women gather wherever there is a TCB truck selling essentials.

Previously it was only the ultra-poor people who gathered in front of the TCB trucks. Now low-income people are also coming as their earnings dwindle. Many of their family members lost their jobs. Money for food has decreased as medical treatment costs increase.

State-owned TCB is selling soybean oil at Tk 100 a litre and sugar and lentils at Tk 55 a kg. The price of soybean oil rose to Tk 144 a litre and sugar and lentils to Tk 75 a kg in the market, while coarse lentils are being sold at Tk 80 a kg. However, the price of some essentials including onions has dropped a bit.

The government may be relieved since the price of daily essentials hasn’t increase that much. But how realistic is this situation? As earnings have dropped, people’s purchasing power has reduced during coronavirus pandemic. There is no likelihood or coronavirus being curbed in the near future. Rather the supply of goods is likely to be disrupted due to increased prevalence of coronavirus in bordering areas. A significant portion of our imported goods comes from India from land ports.

In these circumstances, the government should increase sales through TBC to ease the sufferings of the people of the low income bracket. Secondly, the market monitoring system will have to be strengthened. It must be determined if any vested quarters are working behind the scenes to inflate rice prices. Importers continue to increase the price of edible oil in phases, using the international market prices as an excuse. They aren’t following the price fixed by the government. The consumers can't be exploited in this manner.

Lastly, we want to draw the attention of the finance ministry and say that whether the government admits or not, the income of people from all strata has dropped. Why are they are denying the simple fact that if income drops people can’t spend as before even though the market price remains stable? Leaving aside the debate on new poor or old poor, the authorities concerned must pay attention on how to increase people’s income and keep the market stable.