As in previous years, unscrupulous traders this time too have spiked the prices of many essential commodities centering on Ramadan. They are busy cashing in on lax market monitoring and poor management.
Customers say traders have changed their market manipulation tricks in recent years. They used to hike the prices just before Ramadan, but now they increase it at least two months before the holy month of fasting.
They note that Ramadan comes this year at a time when Covid-19 infections are once again on a surge. Kitchen market price hikes are dealing people a fresh blow when they are already struggling through pandemic-led income losses.
But Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi on Thursday informed parliament that the kitchen market has returned to normalcy after a sudden price surge.
Retailers and wholesalers in the capital said the price of rice has been spiralling for the last couple of months. Per kilogram of coarse rice now sells at Tk50.
In the meantime, even the government itself has recommended raising soybean oil prices twice as the international market prices rise. A litre of bottled soybean now costs Tk140, while loose oil is at Tk120-122.
Sugar – another item which sees a spike in demand in Ramadan – edged up in price one and a half months ago, rising to Tk78 from the previous Tk75 per kg. Non-branded sugar is also at Tk72 per kg, up from the previous rate of Tk65-68 per kg.
Commerce ministry sources said they recently came by an intelligence report on commodity price hikes. The report holds unscrupulous traders responsible for the recent hikes, and referred to it as "a conspiracy".
And the traders are able to do that as the government does not have adequate market monitoring and management, according to the report.
Md Shafiul Ather Taslim, Director (Finance and Operations) of TK Group, was asked about sugar and oil price hikes. He told The Business Standard that the group has no choice but to adjust to price rises in the international market.
"However, we did not raise the prices as much as they rose in the international market," he claimed.
Prices of broilers, one of the major sources of protein for people belonging to the low-income bracket, have been rising sharply for more than a month, despite the fact that there was no major supply crunch. The white meat reached Tk165-170 per kg until Shab-e-Barat, and then dropped to Tk150-160.
Though the price usually hovers around Tk125-135, traders say broiler price is less likely to be reduced before Ramadan.
"Broiler demand usually rises before Shab-e-Barat all over the country. That is why the prices rose," said Md Selim, a broiler wholesaler at Dhaka's Karwan Bazar.
The intelligence report submitted to the commerce ministry mentioned that though it is mandatory for traders to display a list with purchase and sales rates of every item, none obeys it. Rather, hoarders, wholesalers and retailers join hands to increase the prices of various items such as rice, pulses, edible oil, sugar and grams.
Even 20 days before Ramadan, the price of grams has gone up from Tk60-65 to Tk75. Haji Shafi Mahmud, a wholesaler in Dhaka's Chawkbazar, told TBS grams are being sold at a lower rate in wholesale as they are selling less.
"Now if the price rises in retail, why will wholesalers take the responsibility?"
While contacted, Ghulam Rahman, president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh, said "The commodity market turns volatile before Ramadan every year. But the government has not yet been able to resolve the issue."
He stated that sales of the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) alone will not be able to check commodity prices. There should also be effective monitoring and penalties for manipulators.
Prices of some products that the TCB is selling ahead of Ramadan were raised on Thursday. Soybean price was increased by Tk10, to Tk100 per litre, while prices of pulses, grams and sugar by Tk5, to Tk55 per kg.