It seems the genie has been let out of the bottle. In a country where the market is controlled by sellers, particularly by business syndicates, the handle has been presented to them to mindlessly go about the business of spurring market volatility to irrationally unprecedented level. There is no commodity that has not registered an atrocious price escalation, including the immediate anarchy set off in the transport sector by the wee hour announcement of price hikes of fuel oils by 42.50 per cent to 51.70 per cent.
It is common knowledge that business syndicates do not run out of pretexts to hike prices when there is no rationale behind doing so. In fact, they manipulate market by manufacturing excuses at their whims. In rare instances have the government been able to prevail upon them not to carry out their ill design of price hike. They won't stop at anything ---from arm-twisting to hiding stocks overnight for creation of an artificial crisis --- when they fail to convince the minister or officials concerned of the merit of their moves. One glaring example is the sudden disappearance of cooking oils when those became a little dearer in the international market.
No manipulation was left untried such as selling bottled oil in loose form --- which clearly is contrary to business practice and violation of business ethics --- in order to maximise profits. Prompt as they were to raise the price with hikes in global market, although their stocks arrived earlier and even those in the pipeline had their LCs (letters of credit) opened months before, they showed no intention of adjusting price even after they had agreed to do so in a meeting with the ministry concerned. The consumers did not get the benefit of downward revision of prices. Now they are raring to go for hiking prices of all varieties of cooking oil once again.
This happened in case of rice, onion and an array of other essentials. But when the fuel prices have been raised surreptitiously to an atrocious level, now the worst fear is coming true. There will be no-holds-barred race for skyrocketing prices of commodities of every description. Accepted that green chili this time of the year gets dearer because chili fields get flooded by monsoon waters. This year repeated floods in the country's north-eastern region have caused extensive damage to crops including chili. But Sylhet-Sunamganj is not known for bulk production of chili, the country's north and west are.
So far as vegetables are concerned, there seems to be no dearth of supply in the market. But the prices are on the rise following the hike of fuel oils. This time, though, there is a genuine reason. Transportation cost has gone up. But when perishable items are concerned, those have to be disposed of within a reasonable time. So, growers are unlikely to reap the benefits of the increased prices engineered by middlemen.
In this context, the sudden leapfrogging of prices of egg and broiler chicken is intriguing indeed. Is the increase of Tk 40-50 a dozen of eggs proportionate to the rising production cost of these two items? So far as electricity is concerned, the price has not gone up afresh. How much more chicken feed and medicine prices cost now? Yes transportation cost is higher but should it justify the atrocious raise?
When the genie is out of the bottle, official intervention for rational price adjustment is a far cry. Apart from taking an evasive action, the authorities can do nothing now. There are too many areas to be attended to if the authorities concerned want negotiations for arriving at an agreeable price level. When bus fare has been doubled and the chaos on roads continues, controlling commodity prices will remain elusive. But its impacts will be far-reaching: common people including lower middle and middle class will have to forgo many of their much needed nutritious dishes, let alone the use of some choice cosmetics and toiletries.
The outrageous price hike will not only cause inflation but also its consequent compulsion of restricted or limited consumption may end up in a dreaded stagflation.