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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

PRICE SHOCKS

Govt providing 400C monthly subsidy to cushion 40 million poor 

  • JS body asks for updated beneficiary list 
  • Commerce Ministry says list is being updated
  • 40% of beneficiaries got TCB family cards
Update : 05 Apr 2024, 09:57 AM

Each month the government counts a subsidy amount of Tk400 crore as a means of providing support to the poor and cushion them against the price shocks of essentials in the market. 

The TCB (Trading Corporation of Bangladesh) provides, at subsidized rates, four essential commodities – rice (5kg), sugar (1kg), lentil (2kg) and cooking oil (2 litres) – each month to each of the 10 million poor having government-provided family cards. 

The current market value of each food package hovers anywhere between Tk950 and Tk1,000, whereas the cardholders get the pack at Tk540 from designated TCB dealers.

Additionally, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, beneficiaries in Dhaka are also getting a kilogram of dates at Tk150 only. A TCB official said the market price of the same quality date that they provide would be more than Tk400 a kg.

Beneficiary selection issue comes to the fore

Amidst allegations that government price support is not reaching the intended recipients, authorities have initiated scrutiny of the beneficiary list. However, this is proving to be a challenging task given the sheer size of the list, which includes 10 million cardholders benefiting at least 40 million family members, constituting nearly a quarter of Bangladesh’s total population.

Within three weeks of the Commerce Ministry's assurance that the family cardholder list is being updated, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Undertakings has requested an updated list and emphasized the need to ensure that those truly in need are receiving the benefits.

During its second meeting on April 1st, the parliamentary committee also instructed the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) to crosscheck the family cardholder list with that of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). Former top bureaucrat-turned-lawmaker Md Abul Kalam Azad chaired the meeting, which was held in the cabinet room of the Jatiya Sangsad Bhavan.

The meeting called for the issuance of smart family cards to impoverished beneficiaries, replacing the current standard cards. Earlier, on March 7, State Minister for Commerce Ahasanul Islam Titu had stated that the cards were undergoing scrutiny and updates nationwide.

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune on Tuesday, Member of the JS Public Undertakings Committee, Md Ashraf Ali Khan Khasru, said: “Yes, at yesterday’s (Monday) meeting, we extensively discussed TCB’s providing subsidized essentials to the poor.”

When asked about concerns regarding benefits not reaching those truly in need, the lawmaker acknowledged that with the increase in the prices of essentials, and more people seeking access to low-priced commodities from TCB, there are inevitably some allegations. However, he emphasized the importance of ensuring that the right people receive the benefits and that TCB makes proper dealership arrangements.

TCB providing all beneficiaries with smart family cards

TCB spokesperson Humayun Kabir informed Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday that the authorities ensure proper recruitment of dealers across the country, timely import, and supply of essentials to ensure that beneficiary cardholders receive their monthly entitlements.

However, he explained that as far as the listing of beneficiaries is concerned, it comes from local administrations, such as city corporations, union parishads, and district administrations, through the commerce ministry. "We do not handle beneficiary selection ourselves."

Humayun Kabir said that the TCB’s current initiative involves replacing the previous ordinary cards provided by local administrations with smart family cards. Once the initial selection is completed accurately, the smart cards have provisions to deter forgeries, duplications, etc. He mentioned that so far, TCB has assigned vendors to provide smart cards to four million of the 10 million beneficiaries, and the process is ongoing.

Poor need cushion against price shocks

According to Bangladesh’s official statistics, the cost of food increased 9.44% in February of 2024 over the same month in the previous year. Food Inflation in Bangladesh averaged 6.78% from 2013 until 2024, reaching an all-time high of 12.56% in October last year. 

The government took multiple initiatives to arrest food price hikes through various market interventions but finally started giving price support to a vast number of the poor through family cards in 2022. 

M Asaduzzaman, a former research director and a Professorial Fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said the beneficiary list, he presumed, would be largely correct but there might be a certain degree of improper listing and of the non-poor getting the benefit.

He told Dhaka Tribune that the government could engage other stakeholders at the grassroots instead of doing the listing all by itself through official means. “Even town hall meetings can be organized; NGOs can be involved in the process of making a leakproof beneficiary list.”

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