Thursday, May 30, 2024

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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Are government controls enough to curb soaring prices?

  • Concerns arise about government intervention effectiveness
  • Economists stress importance of supply
  • State minister promises strict action against price violators
Update : 18 Mar 2024, 09:05 PM

The prices of essential goods are steadily climbing, with profiteering exacerbated following the onset of Ramadan, leading to growing frustration among the public.

Despite recent government efforts to regulate prices, traders are disregarding these set prices, raising doubts about the efficacy of such measures.

To provide some relief to the masses, the Department of Agricultural Marketing, acting on behalf of the government, issued price regulations for 29 essential products on Friday, invoking Section 4 of the Agricultural Marketing Act. The department in its notification urged compliance with these government-fixed prices to alleviate the burden on consumers.

Govt-set prices

Among the 29 products, the price of imported chickpeas at the producer level was set at Tk90.37, wholesale price at Tk93.50 max and retail price at Tk98.30. Similarly, good-quality lentils are Tk125.35 at the wholesale level and Tk130.50 at the retail level; green grams Tk158.57 and Tk165.41; black grams Tk145.30 and Tk166.50; coarse lentils Tk100.20 and Tk105.50; and grass peas TK83.83 and Tk92.61.

The price of farmed Pangash catfish should be Tk153.35 at the wholesale level and Tk180.87 at retail; farmed rui Tk303.9 and Tk353.59; beef Tk631.69 and Tk664.39; and mutton Tk992.58 and Tk1,003.56.

The department set the price of broilers at Tk162.69 and Tk175 at the wholesale retail levels, respectively; Sonali chicken at Tk256.10 and Tk262; and one egg at Tk9.61 and Tk10.49.

The wholesale and retail prices of local onions are Tk53.20 and Tk65; local garlic Tk94.61 and Tk120.81; imported ginger Tk120.25 and Tk180.20; red chilli Tk253.26 and Tk327.34; and green chilli Tk45.40 and Tk60.20.

The department set the retail price of cabbage at Tk28.30; cauliflower at Tk29.60; eggplants at Tk49.75; beans at Tk48; potato at Tk28.55; tomato at Tk40.20; pumpkin at Tk23.38; Zahidi dates at Tk185.07; thick flattened rice at Tk60; four Sagor bananas at Tk29.78; and gram flour at Tk121.3.

Market reality

However, these measures have yielded no discernible impact on the market.

During visits to kitchen markets in the capital on Saturday and Sunday, this correspondent observed that traders were not adhering to government-set prices, with many professing ignorance of the government's decision.

For instance, while the maximum retail price of beef per kg is supposed to be Tk664, traders at Rampura Bazar were charging customers Tk750 for it.

When queried about it, several traders claimed they were unaware of the government-fixed prices, adding that the market association had not communicated such directives to them.

Similar circumstances unfolded in wholesale markets, including Karwan Bazar, where prices for vegetables, meats and other commodities remained unaffected by the government's intervention.

Consequently, prices have remained as inflated as they were before the government's regulations.

The retail price of farmed Pangas catfish should be Tk181, yet customers had to purchase it at Tk200 per kg.

A trader at Karwan Bazar pointed out that the government's decision to set prices for dates came after the commencement of Ramadan, saying that was why the move was less likely to be effective.

Moreover, on Saturday, chickpeas, lentils and grass peas were being sold at Tk12, Tk10 and Tk17 higher, respectively, than the government-fixed prices. 

Ultimately, all 29 items, including fish and meat, continue to be sold at inflated prices.

Bangladesh Bank has permitted the import of essential commodities including edible oil, chickpeas, pulses, peas, onions, spices, sugar and dates during Ramadan to maintain adequate supply and stabilize prices. In a circular, the central bank said these products could be imported on suppliers' or buyers' credit of 90 days, with this arrangement extending until March 31.

However, traders voiced concerns about the National Board of Revenue (NBR) raising the minimum import price, leading to an adverse impact on commodity prices, thereby undermining the effectiveness of this facility for them.

Ensuring supply

Meanwhile, economists argued that ensuring a sufficient supply of goods, rather than government price fixing, was key to making prices more accessible to the general public.

Dr Mohammed Helal Uddin, director (research) at the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP), also emphasized the importance of preventing hoarding practices aimed at exploiting future price increases.

He suggested the government take decisive actions to deter hoarding and encourage consumers to refrain from panic buying.

Promise of strict action and syndicates

State Minister for Commerce Ahsanul Islam Titu has affirmed the government's commitment to price control measures and emphasized its readiness to take strict action against those who flout government directives.

On the other hand, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, responding to questions at an event on Friday regarding the government's handling of syndicates despite its 15 consecutive years of tenure, resolutely replied that the government was neither failing nor held hostage by any syndicates.

He said Bangladesh was doing better than my countries, adding that market conditions were not good anywhere in the world. 

Quader also talked about breaking market syndicates. “There is an issue of looking into who is involved in them. We are investigating whether those who have failed in their movement [to oust the government] and are desperate to come to power have created a syndicate out of frustration.”

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