Ramadan, the fasting month for the Muslims, is only just a few days away. It is a month of self-abnegation, self-control and self-purification through refraining not only from having food and drinks at daytime but from all kind of wrongdoings, including greed, sex, backbiting, injustice etc. Ramadan teaches us to be patient and empathetic through feeling sufferings of hunger and hardships of the fellow citizens who are less fortunate than others in the society. But then there are some people, especially a section of unscrupulous businessmen, who cashing in on the situation, manipulate prices of essentials by hoardings during this time, leading to aggravate the sufferings of the common people.
Invariably, prices of essentials, especially consumable food items, go up astronomically on the eve of or during Ramadan. Some profit-mongers in the country ramp up the prices allegedly by creating artificial crises through stockpiling products. It is a practice as old as the hills that they have been doing in pretext of supply shortage as regular as the clockwork in every Ramadan. And this time is also no exception.A recent report of a vernacular daily shows traders have already put up the prices of chicken, vegetables and beef. Prices of indigenous and broiler chicken have been on an uptrend for several weeks while hardly any vegetables worth below Tk 50 a kg is available in the market at the moment. Consumers say since people and media go on at the traders for the skyrocketed rates at the beginning or during Ramadan, they deliberately increased it much ahead of the month kicks off. While the retailers blame the soaring prices in the wholesale markets for the rise, wholesalers claim it is the hailstorms that caused damage to the vegetables resulting in the shortage of supply.
According to daily price list of groceries of Bangladesh Trading Corporation (TCB), just a month ago, one kg of beef was Tk 500, and two months back Tk 480, now it is retailing at Tk 530 to 550 a kg. Similar rate of increment rings true for other items. Besides, unlike past years when both city corporations of Dhaka set the price of beef at an increase rate for the month of Ramadan, this time around meat traders did not even wait for that to happen; instead they wilfully did it without the knowledge of consumers and government authorities.
Given the incorrigible habit of a section of businessmen of being noncommittal, when it comes to not rocket the prices of consumables in Ramadan, recently our prime minister, while inaugurating development activities of economic zone through a videoconference, has requested the business leaders not to raise the prices of essentials including sugar and edible oil. The request was followed by a press conference by the parliamentary standing committee on food ministry issued warning to the businessmen to shun from increasing prices of essential commodities and hoarding them before the holy month of Ramadan. But it’s increasingly evident from the sharp raise that the request and warning have fallen on deaf ears.
That said, the complaints of business community also merit careful attention. In a meeting with home minister on the eve of the last Ramadan traders referred to the rampant extortions by some petty political leaders and members of law enforcers from the goods carrying vehicles on the roads for the cause of price spiral. Issues like delayed shipment and offloading of goods, traffic congestion and setting the weight limit on trucks by RHD and the substantial raise of transportation cost for it also came up in the meeting. It would, therefore, be interesting to know precisely what the relevant authorities are planning to do about addressing underlying causes and other bottlenecks in the supply chain that add to cost of goods.
It is patient to mention that soaring rates may be little headache for the upper-middle class or the rich who are mostly internet-savvy, usually taking advantage of ecommerce and getting virtually every essential in door steps with a small service charge, without going through the market busting at the seams and haggling about prices. The scenario has nothing to do with marginal group with fixed income or wage, who has to tighten their belt once again to make do with their limited earnings. In fact, the brunt is largely borne by this group and they feel the pinch as they have no alternative but to give in to traders’ whim and cough up exorbitant charge.
Over the years, the government had brought in many laws including Consumers' Rights Protection Act 2009, Competition Act 2012, Safe Food Law 2013 and Formalin Control Act 2015. Introducing of these laws has, indeed, made a legal framework for protecting consumers' rights. But infrastructure and procedure of operation are yet to develop to bring such laws into force, observers say.Our commerce minister assured that there would be no price spiral in Ramadan; neither would there be any deficit in supply of essential commodities. Regrettably, the reverse has been the fact as prices have already rocketed. Allegations are rife that owing to political clout, traders always gain the upper hand over the government agencies while negotiating price related affairs. So, the government should put its foot down and use the long arm of the law to bring order in the commodity markets.
However, it must take the traders genuine grievances that include allegations of extortions, procrastination in shipment and offloading goods etc, on board to sustainably address their worries and ensure the smooth supply of consumables not only for Ramadan but round the year too. On businesses’ part, they must do business abiding by the laws of the land, and contain ethical breaches that lead to arbitrary price hike. It would be remiss if it’s not pointed out that many consumers have the propensity for being shopaholic or prodigal, indulging in heavy buying or consumptions in the month, which not only create undue burden on the poorer section but also go against the spirit of Ramadan. So, let us do our respective parts that would be a step in the right direction to make the upcoming Ramadan truly meaningful.
The writer is an Associate Engineer, Thakral Information Systems Pvt. Ltd. Email: [email protected]