Consumers, association leaders demand vat withdrawal
Amid the countrywide shutdown enforced to halt the coronavirus, super shops in the capital and metropolis keep providing essential food supplies to consumers, braving the risk of being infected with the novel disease.
Customers are increasingly rushing to these chain grocery stores as they offer attractive prices of products that come sometimes with deep discounts, maintaining social distancing guidelines and ensuring hygiene of staffers and foods.
To stamp out the COVID-19 that claimed 27 lives in the country as of yesterday, the government has locked down several areas in the capital and a number of districts to defeat the virus.
Since the traditional kitchen markets lack any mechanism on maintaining social distancing norms and an organizational capacity to ensure cleanliness and hygienic requirements, shoppers are gradually moving to super shops, consumers have said.
“I am no longer interested for kitchen market, as indifferent shoppers huddle in a crammed place where unmoved sellers also give a damn to hygiene,” Farida Nasrin, a banker, told Dhaka Tribune yesterday at a Meena Bazar outlet on Dhanmondi 27 road.
“I am comfortable here for their strict enforcement of hygienic standards, product varieties and discount card,” she added.
Nasrin, however, says vat (Value Added Tax) at super shops is really an extra burden for middle income group people.
Once the situation improves, she says that she may not regularly opt for super shops to avoid vat, she adds.
Talking to a number of senior officials of super shops, they have said that customers’ turnout at their outlets have spiked in recent times.
“They are mostly conscious people who are spooked with the corona-related situation and preferred super shops over kitchen markets,” a sales officer at Nandan, another super shop at Dhanmondi, said.
Staffers at different super shops in the capital were seen helping out the people through maintaining distance with circles and asking shoppers to maintain queues under the social distancing guidelines of the government.
On the other hand, to ensure hygiene and safety, the super shops are providing hand sanitizer and spray before shoppers get the outlets.
During a visit on Wednesday, it was found enough safety measures were ensured at the outlets and they are selling goods at reasonable prices.
“In this time of need and crisis, we want outlets having enough safety and hygiene measures, maintaining social distancing guidelines and selling products at reasonable rates,” Mohammad Asrafuzzaman, a customer at a Meena Bazar outlet in Mirpur told Dhaka Tribune.
“I am happy with the arrangements on hygiene enforced by Meena Bazar management,” added Zaman.
He urges the government for ensuring supply chain of essential products, including food items so that people can buy all the goods from a single outlet.
“Our top priority is ensuring hygiene and social distancing to stop spread of coronavirus. We have taken maximum protection for our staff and customers,” Meena Bazar Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Shaheen Khan said.
He says the management of Meena is providing safety equipment to its employees and getting floors and shelves cleaned frequently.
To ensure social distancing, Meena Bazar does not allow more customers at a time, elaborates Khan.
All the super shops follow the hygiene and safety standards, he adds, saying, “As a result, number of customers has increased.”
“Due to the lockdown caused by coronavirus, common people are coming to our outlets than usual time due mainly to safety issues, but VAT remains a real burden for the commoners,” Sabbir Hasan Nasir, Chief Executive Officer of Swapno, said.
If the government withdraws VAT for the sake of the people, it will be very helpful and less expensive for the lower middle income people, he adds.
Bangladesh Super Market Owners Association Finance Director Quazi Ruhul Amin has told Dhaka Tribune that super shops do not compromise with safety and social distancing issues.
We have ensured hygienic measures and marked circles for shoppers to maintain adequate distance,” says Ruhul.
For available vegetable items, fish and other agricultural products, the government should allow transportation to carry goods to the capital from the locked down areas, he implores.
According to Bangladesh Super Market Owners Association, there are some 300 outlets of super shops in the country, and their annual turnover is nearly Tk3, 000 crore.
Meanwhile, the Association has urged the National Board of Revenue (NBR) to suspend the 5% VAT on sales as the association leaders believe the measure will help consumers trim down their expenses during the crisis period.
Currently, a 5% VAT is applicable on package goods.
Talked, Md Jamal Hossain, Member (VAT), NBR has said that they have no plan to reduce or suspend the trade vat right away.
“We are actually interested to plug the widespread loopholes taking place in vat collection,” Jamal told Dhaka Tribune.
He says only 5 % of the total vat revenue of the government comes from trade vat, including from super shops.
Jamal says they do not maintain separate vat amount collected from super shops which he says will not be more than Tk 200 crore annually.