- Many people return empty-handed from TCB, OMS outlets for demand being higher than what is allocated and available
- TCB outlets sell sugar and lentils for Tk55 per kg, soybean oil Tk100 per litre
- Buyers say queues of people at outlets are getting longer day by day, but the quantity of products is not increasing
- Buyers demand government increase subsidised allocation of daily essentials
Scores of people are thronging the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) outlets in different places of the capital amid the ongoing all-out lockdown. They are there to buy various daily essentials at subsidised prices, but many are returning empty-handed.
Due to the insufficient allocation of various daily essentials, including rice, oil and pulses, the suffering of people, who live from hand to mouth and whose incomes have been cut off due to the lockdown, is increasing every day.
Spot visits to different parts of the capital showed TCB selling soybean oil, pulses and sugar, and the OMS programme of the Food Department selling rice and flour. But demand exceeds government allocation, and as such, most people are unable to benefit from the government subsidised prices in any real or meaningful way. Many people are returning empty-handed.
On Thursday afternoon, around 200 men and women were standing in two separate lines along the road in Madhya Badda of the capital. Some of them, tired and weary, were sitting on the stairs of closed shops beside the footpath. Asked, one of them said they were all waiting for the TCB truck.
"We are waiting since 10 o'clock in the morning. It is now 2:00pm, but the truck has not come yet," said Azizul Mia, an old man in his seventies, sitting in a chair at the front of the men's line.
Contacted, TCB spokesman Md Humayun told The Business Standard (TBS) that no vehicle was scheduled for Madhya Badda on Thursday. People only thought it would come because a TCB truck was sent there the day before.
TCB, under the Ministry of Commerce, is selling sugar and lentils for Tk55 per kg, and a litre of soybean oil for Tk100 per litre. This was done as an emergency service in the strict lockdown imposed by the government in the wake of a deteriorating pandemic situation in the country and for the upcoming occasion of Eid-ul-Adha.
In North Badda on Thursday, two lines of about 200 people were there in front of the TCB truck. But even though many were still waiting in line, the soybean oil ran out by noon. Some still stayed on to buy sugar and pulses, while many returned empty-handed. Those now standing in line for sugar and lentils, were not even sure they would get any because whatever was in stock was far less than the number of people waiting.
Talking to several buyers, we learned that many middle class people are also coming to buy TCB products during the ongoing pandemic, due to loss of income and the rising prices of daily necessities in the market. Earlier, only low income people were in front of the TCB outlets, but now many middle class people are also standing in line.
Buyers said the line of people buying these products is getting longer day after day, but the quantity of products is not increasing. They demanded the government increase the allocation of these products.
According to TCB dealers, 2,100 kg of goods are allotted to each outlet: 400 kg of lentil or pulses, 1,000 kg of oil, and 600 kg of sugar. In other words, only 200 people can buy 2 kg of pulses, and 500 people can buy 2 litres of oil at any one outlet. However, the vendors first sell a package of two litres of oil, two kg of sugar, and two kg of pulses. When any one item is finished, the rest of the items are then sold separately.
People are more interested in cooking oil and pulses, because the open market price of a litre of oil is about Tk150 and pulses are more or less Tk100 outside TCB.
Visiting a TCB outlet in Rampura, just opposite the Bangladesh Television office, we found a long line of people starting from under the U-loop, all the way out to Hatirjheel. Even though the stock of products was emptying rapidly, the line of people seemed to be getting longer and longer.
Md Swapan, dealer of the outlet, told TBS that a lot of people are buying TCB goods. "The products finish but not the line," he said.
After standing in line for an hour and a half, Abdul Karim finally got oil and sugar in hand. He said the number of people standing in line an hour and a half ago had now increased since then.
"I used to sell clothes on the footpath. Now there is no income at all in the last several days, with my business shut down by the lockdown. My savings are finished, trying to take care of my family of five: my wife, two children and my elderly father. Now, I am maintaining my family on borrowed money," he said in frustration.
"Making more TCB goods available will benefit thousands of people like me," he added.
According to the commerce ministry, 764 metric tons of sugar, 475 metric tons of lentils, and 11,83,378 litres of soybean oil were sold at subsidised prices in three days, from 5 July to 7 July. The products were sold at 450 outlets across the country, including Dhaka.
There were long lines of people in front of the government's rice selling outlets also. The government is selling coarse rice for Tk30 per kg. A dealer at an OMS outlet run by the Food Department next to Rampura Bazar, said three tons of rice had been allotted there.
In front of this outlet too, there were hundreds of men and women waiting in line with bags. Sales started from 11:00am, but at 3:00pm when the stock of rice was already finished, about 300 people were still waiting in line.
Enamul Haque, dealer of the outlet, said, " The three tons of rice allotted to us are finished, but many people leave empty handed once the allotted stock is finished."
According to sources at the food department, the food ministry has given instructions to sell rice at 10 outlets in Dhaka, three tons per day at each outlet. The ministry has also given instructions to allow the sale of two tons of flour and one ton of rice per day at 276 centres in Dhaka and four other labor-heavy cities, and one ton of rice and flour per day from 429 places in other divisional and district cities. However, the food department is yet to implement the directives of the ministry.
Officials of the department said that although there were plans to operate 147 OMS outlets in the capital, only 97-99 are operational at present, alongside 10 truck-sales.
But the department is failing to provide adequate supplies even to these outlets, said dealers of the food department outlets.
They said each of the outlets is supposed to get two tons of flour and one ton of rice every day, but only one ton of rice is being given, no flour. As a result, they are facing problems in handling the extra pressure of buyers.
On condition of anonymity, an official from the food department told TBS, "A lot of people have become unemployed in the lockdown. But the allocation has not been increased accordingly, triggering increasing suffering of people. However, a proposal to increase the allocation of rice by another 500kg is awaiting the approval of the ministry."
Commenting on the untold sufferings of people during the lockdown, Dr Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of Policy Research Institute, said: "It is an urgent necessity to make sure that those who are cut off from work by lockdown can buy products at a lower price. These foods can also be distributed free of cost in various other regions where people are most affected. If people remain hungry, the implementation of a lockdown will be hampered because then people cannot be made to stay home no matter how much effort is given."
According to a study by PPRC (insert full name instead of abbreviation before publishing) and the Brac Institute of Governance and Development, 24.5 million people in Bangladesh have fallen below the poverty line due to the coronavirus pandemic.