Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) has announced a decision to increase the price of soybean oil by Tk 10 per litre from Thursday. With this, the institution has increased the price of this essential product in two phases by a total of Tk 20 over the last two months. Two months ago, a litre of soybean oil could be bought from TCB for Tk 80 which now has been increased to Tk 100. The price of sugar has also been increased by Tk 5 per kg. Earlier, TCB had also increased the prices of lentils and onions. The decision of the government to increase the prices of these essentials in such a manner is unacceptable given the additional financial strain on the daily life of the people due to the pandemic which has been going on for more than a year. Such an insensitive decision of the government during a crisis reflects the government’s detachment from the people.
Asked by Prothom Alo about the reason for the price hike, a spokesperson for TCB said, "The prices of these products are higher in the open market now, so TCB has increased the prices in order to adjust.”
Otherwise, there is a risk of irregularities, he said. This explanation of the TCB spokesperson cannot be accepted in any way. If the government's view is that in a country of free market economy, government marketing agencies have to keep pace with the uncontrolled behavior of the open market, then what is the need to have such an institution then? On the contrary, we think that subsidies are needed to keep the prices of major consumer goods low in order to alleviate the financial pressures as much as possible when disaster is raging in the country as people's incomes are declining.
While keeping the prices of TCB's products lower than in the open market is the main goal of government-initiated consumer marketing, TCB must ensure that there is no irregularities with their products. It is an absolutely lame excuse to say that TCB's relatively lower priced goods will be bought and sold for higher prices in the black market. TCB cannot avoid their responsibility with such weak excuses. TCB has to sell consumer goods at low prices in the public interest and stop all kinds of irregularities. If they fail to do so, action should be taken.
The government has to take steps to allay the fears of price hike before Ramadan. The syndicates are accused of manipulating the consumer goods market that escalates during the month of Ramadan. In this situation, TCB's decision to increase the price of its products could lead to instability in the market. It would only affect the people who are already broken by the pandemic.
Apart from that, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has reduced the income of a large number of people and increased poverty. No one knows exactly how many people have been added to the list of people living below the poverty line. This new trend of poverty continues. For this huge number of poor people, the existing social safety net programmes need to be further expanded while more money needs to be allocated. However, it is necessary to calculate the exact number of the new poor and list them. At the district and upazila level, the government administration and the local government should jointly start creating a database of new poor immediately.