Onion prices shot up record high recently, beyond the purchasing capacity of consumers. The government has started importing onions by air while onions from Myanmar have already reached Bangladesh. Yet there is hardly any sign of a fall in price in the local markets. Onion prices soared at a rocket speed, but have been falling at a snail's pace.
Meanwhile, the price of rice, edible oil and vegetables is also spiralling. The price of ginger and garlic has been on the rise for months. People are constantly under pressure due to the exorbitant prices of daily essentials.
According to the rules of the economy, the commodity prices go up if supply falls, while prices fall if the supply goes up.
But this is not always the case in Bangladesh. There is no shortage of supply of other kitchen products except onions. It was argued that the onion price skyrocketed as India had put a ban on onion exports to Bangladesh.
Had the onions been exported from alternative markets in time, unscrupulous businessmen could not make that unjust extra profit. The minister and MPs held the these businessmen and the syndicates responsible for destabilising the onion market, yet no effective action could be taken against them.
The ineffectiveness of the commerce ministry is unfortunate. Some traders stored the onions imported from Myanmar instead of releasing them in the retail market. Nearly 15 tonnes of onions rotted and were thrown away in Khatunganj. While many small businessmen were caught in the mobile court drive, the large stockists remained out of reach.
In addition to onions, the prices of rice, edible oil and vegetables are also increasing, exacerbating sufferings for the lower income people. It is surprising that the price of fine rice increased by six to seven taka while the price of medium rice soared by three to five taka per kg. The price of edible oil has also increased by three to five taka per litre. Ginger is being sold for 120 to 130 taka per kg. Garlic prices were already on the rise. Although the prices of all vegetables are high, farmers are not benefiting from that. Beans that are being sold in Dhaka for 60 taka per kg are available in Jashore for 35 to 40 taka. Unscrupulous businessmen are behind this price hike.
Food minister Sadhan Chandra Majumdar called on the owners of rice mills to not raise prices of rice. He said, the country has sufficient rice stock. However, his statement that the price of fine rice increased due to the growing consumption of fine rice in Bangladesh was hardly justified as the price of all types of rice has increased in the market. The minister's statement could serve to give a wrong message to the traders.
Earlier, contradictory statements by the commerce minister and the industries minister on onion prices destabilised the market. In the past, when prices of a commodity went up, ministers and government officials often met businessmen and strengthened monitoring the wholesale and retail markets. The commerce minister wrapped up his duty with only one such meeting this time.
The government was satisfied as the price hike of daily products was at a moderate level. But now that the price of almost every essential commodity has started to rise, there is no longer scope for complacence. The lower income people are likely to suffer. Ministers should keep an eye on the markets rather than talking too much about the prices. The ministry should take the initiative to import goods, monitoring when a product crisis may arise. They should intervene in the market when needed through TCB sales or open market. This will ease the consumers’ sufferings somewhat.