The ministry of food is reportedly awaiting government's nod on resumption of the special open market sale (OMS)-- a programme that got started following the Prime Minister's declaration in late March to sell rice at Tk 10 per kilogram. Conducted sporadically and mired by mismanagement, it was stopped for a while and then resumed till June. Currently, there is a strong feeling among concerned quarters, including the food ministry that the need for special OMS has not at all waned; rather it is more critically felt due to the persisting income loss of low-income groups, getting more compulsive by flooding of vast swathes of land in various parts of the country. At present, the food ministry is running its normal OMS-- selling rice at Tk 30 per kg and flour at Tk 18 per kg.
Under the special OMS programme, more than 2.0 million cards were provided till June across the country, and around 69,108 tonnes of course rice were sold to the extreme poor in city corporations and municipal areas. According to the food ministry, this required some 40,864 tonnes of rice against all cardholders each month. So far, some 0.15 million tonnes of rice have been allocated in the projected budget under the OMS sector for the current fiscal. It may be noted that the special OMS programme is meant only for cardholders who are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. More important to note, the cards were distributed to the poor in municipal areas alone.
Observers feel that re-launching of special OMS all over the country in both urban and rural areas is now crucial. What is fast emerging is a depressing scenario where most low-income earners need money to buy food and bare necessities and the poorer sections in the informal sector with no income whatsoever are in a dire need of at least one meal a day to survive. Hunger and deaths from hunger may assume a scarier proportion than COVID 19. Around 52.0 million or 85 per cent of the workers in the country are dependent on various informal economic activities, most of all of whom are now without work.
It has been learnt that the food ministry has sought opinion of the ministry of finance whether to resume special OMS, as directed earlier by the PM for three months, or to go on with its normal OMS. Given the prevailing situation, it is felt that normal OMS price of Tk 30 per kg of rice and special OMS price of Tk 10 make a lot of difference for the poor sections all over the country in this pandemic-induced time, and hence the government should be forthcoming in the resumption of special OMS-- at least for three-four months. Clearly, this will require increased allocations, which may overshoot the government's budget for safety net programmes in the current fiscal, requiring early revision. However, considering the prevailing circumstances, it is no big wish but a bare necessity to help save lives.