When countries with predominantly Muslim populations experience deliberately effected lower commodity prices immediately before and during Ramadan, the holy month, Bangladesh unashamedly remains an exception. In this country, the business community start pouncing on consumers long before the start of the month of siam (self abnegation). This year is no exception too. The harping on the same old tune by the ministry concerned also goes side by side. It is better the ministry kept its mouth shut and not made hollow promises to keep prices of the most sought-after items during the holy month stable.
The fact is every commodity starting from rice to spices, fish to fruits, chickpea to chicken, puffed rice to polao rice, egg plant to egg -you name it -all have been registering price hike every week. When this has been going on for weeks now, the ministry of commerce is howling, 'anyone trying to create an artificial crisis of commodities or raising prices will be severely dealt with'. People have long been familiar with such empty threats, let alone the target groups -businesspeople to be precise.
The Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) has been assigned the responsibility of selling essentials in the open market from 185 trucks from today. It will sell, as it did in the past, six items -onion, sugar, chick pea, pulse, cooking oil and date. In Dhaka city, there will be 33 such trucks, in Chittagong 10 and in divisional cities five each and in district towns two trucks each. The number of essentials certainly shows the limitation of the drive. Also, the quantity of commodities will prove ludicrously short of the requirement. Urban-centric as it is, villagers have not even figured in the plan undertaken. Are the village poor better-off than their counterparts in the cities?
At a time when prices are galloping every week, the ministry concerned assures (or deceives!) that mobile courts will start monitoring from the first day of Ramadan the market and taking punitive actions against all who would be found to have raised prices. Meanwhile, the High Court has declared running of mobile courts headed by executive magistrates illegal.
What is the benchmark of prices for different commodities? Is the manoeuvred prices over the weeks or the level that was in force a month or so ago? Indeed the way traders have hiked the prices, by the time the holy month begins they will take the price tags of essentials to a new high. If they wish, on request from the ministry of commerce they may even condescend to lower prices by a few Takas a kilogram of essentials in high demand. Still the profit margin will remain fatter than it would have if the original price line was not manipulated in the first place.
The TCB-distributed essentials will reach a small fraction of the population even if the operation is run most honestly and effectively. The stored goods will still benefit a few people in desperate need for such subsidised largesse.
Yet the exercise is not expected to exert a major influence on the price trajectory of price in the market. The commerce minister is on record saying that the international market is stable and there is no reason for commodities in the domestic market becoming costlier on an occasion when people of principles, let alone religious-minded ones, will consider artificial price hiking a serious crime.
Given the fact that the market indication is to the opposition, the government has every right to be stern enough to keep the prices under control during this time. It seems, the two make strange bedfellows to the affront of religious sanctions and thus market gets jittery.