The government will provide essential food items at subsidised rates to 1 core poor families, who have been squeezed by the burden of rising costs following their Covid-led income erosion, in the forthcoming Ramadan.
The Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) will supply edible oil, sugar, pulses, grams, onions and dates to beneficiaries listed in two phases through deputy commissioners (DCs) and upazila nirbahi officers (UNOs).
Each family will get a litre of soybean oil, two kgs of sugar, two kgs of lentils and a kg of grams 15 days before the fasting month begins. In mid-Ramadan, they will again receive these essential items at subsidised rates. Besides, people in some areas will be provided with imported onions and dates. The beneficiaries will have to spend Tk300-Tk350 on the items.
Meanwhile, TCB's sales of essentials though trucks will remain suspended. Currently, its 450 trucks are engaged across the country for the purpose.
On 3 February, at a meeting chaired by Senior Secretary Md Tofazzel Hossain Miah, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) decided to provide the food items at subsidised prices during Ramadan to 35 lakh poor families who received Tk2,500 in cash assistance each from the government following the Covid outbreak.
Later, upon consultation with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the number of beneficiaries was raised to 1 crore, AHM Shafiquzzaman, additional secretary (import) at the commerce ministry, told The Business Standard.
Providing the 1 crore poor families with subsidised food is a very positive move on the part of the government. But beneficiaries need to be selected properly, Ghulam Rahman, chairman of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh, told The Business Standard.
Dr Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said the government should also keep close watch so that commodity prices do not go up overall in Ramadan. The import and supply system of daily necessities should be kept in order and steps should be taken to stop extortions on the roads.
Shafiquzzaman said the commerce ministry and the TCB have already started preparations to implement the PMO's directive on supplying TCB goods to 1 crore families in two phases.
Deputy commissioners and upazila nirbahi officers will prepare lists of beneficiaries and provide them with family cards. An SMS, mentioning the time and place for collecting the food items allotted for them, will be sent to their mobile numbers.
A meeting has been convened for Tuesday with Senior Secretary at the commerce ministry Tapan Kanti Ghosh in the chair on the formulation of a strategy to implement this mega plan. Senior Secretary at the PMO Md Tofazzel Hossain Miah will also be present at the meeting.
Tofazzal could not be contacted on the phone for his comments.
The selection of beneficiaries
Allegations have been rife in the past that a large number of solvent people, including government employees and local public representatives, across the country had been selected for the government cash relief intended for 50 lakh Covid-hit poor households.
The list of deserving people to avail of Tk2500 as an Eid gift from the prime minister was updated and after much scrutiny, the number stood at 35 lakh and they received the cash assistance. Later, the government provided cash assistance to 3.5 lakh more people from road transport and shipping sectors and non-MPO educational institutions.
All these 38.5 lakh families will be in the list of beneficiaries for the food assistance at subsidised rates, said Shafiquzzaman.
Now, at least 12 lakh poor families living under Dhaka and Barisal City Corporations, who are not on the current lists, will get listed.
In addition, the number of households covered by the government's food assistance programmes is about 50 lakh and a major portion of them are included in the list of the 38.5 lakh beneficiaries of cash assistance
After scrutinising such duplication, the list of poor families will be made at the field level through the deputy commissioners and upazila nirbahi officers. Those listed people without cards will be given family cards. After receiving the SMS on the scheduled day, they will go to the designated places and collect the food items.
TCB's current stock against demand of supplies in Ramadan
As usual, TCB has been collecting oil, sugar, dates and grams with a plan to sell the items though 700 trucks across the country during Ramadan. Now, it needs to procure more to ensure supplies to 1 crore households in two phases.
TCB officials said at present TCB has 16,000 tonnes of pulses in its warehouses and will collect another 24,000 tonnes, while it has 20,000 tonnes of sugar, which need to be increased to 40,000 tonnes. The state-run corporation has 2 crore litres of edible oil in its warehouses against a demand of 4 crore litres. Besides, there are 10,000 tonnes of grams in the TCB's stock.
Commerce ministry officials said the TCB had opened a letter of credit for onion imports before the start of the onion season when prices in the country's market were rising. Now, these onions have started coming to the country. There are also plans to supply these imported onions to the poor families.
Currently, the TCB has 12 warehouses across the country and distributes food items from these warehouses to dealers across the country and sells them in the open market.
Under the new system, goods will be supplied from the warehouses only in those 12 districts which have warehouses. Products will be delivered to the remaining 52 districts under the supervision of DCs. And the DCs will send them to the UNOs concerned as per list of beneficiaries. According to the number of beneficiaries, the goods will be transported to union parishads and municipalities from where the families will collect their allotted items.
Apart from edible oil, TCB now sells sugar, pulses and grams through the open market sales programme. Dealers open sacks and sell from those according to the demand of buyers. Now all items will be packaged under the new method. People concerned think that it will reduce wastage and save time.
How subsidised food will reach beneficiaries
In a circular issued on 9 February, the commerce ministry said DCs will submit a list of the beneficiaries to the TCB by 20 February. The TCB will select warehouses for the storage of food items at the district level and send the goods to the designated warehouses as per demand of the DCs.
Additional DCs will provide the TCB with their receipt copies after getting products as per their allotment letters.
To distribute TCB's goods among the beneficiaries, DCs will determine a certain number of beneficiaries from the list and fix the time and places for sales and prepare a calendar. Copies of the calendar will be given to the commerce ministry, the TCB, superintendents of police, UNOs, union parishad chairmen, members, mayors of municipalities and ward Commissioners.
UNOs will inform family card holders about the time and spot four days before product sales through union parishad chairpersons, members, union land assistant officers and all other means.
If any product remains unsold due to the absence of enlisted persons, UNOs or assistant commissioners (land) will issue family cards in favour of other low-income people available and arrange for sales of the goods to them.
There will be separate committees, including two police members each, for union or ward-based sales of products.
The UNOs will make three copies of family cards for each beneficiary – one copy will be with the authorised officers, one with TCB dealers and another with the beneficiaries. At the time of purchase, beneficiaries will sign the dealer's copy, while the dealer will sign that of the beneficiaries.