THE sudden doubling of the price of parboiled rice, the staple food of the country’s people, at the outlets of government open market sales — meant to afford consumers, especially the poor and low-income people, some relief — has already caused a stir among the buyers. As the price doubled from Tk 15 a kilogram on Sunday, many buyers, as New Age reported on Tuesday, left the outlets without buying rice, failing the purpose of the OMS mechanism. But the government’s coming to sell non-boiled atap rice, which is used to prepare pilau and traditional sweetmeats and delicacies especially during the winter, has made a mockery of the OMS purpose. The government has started selling non-boiled rice for Tk 30 a kilogram, only Tk 2 less than what the price of parboiled rice has increased to. Non-boiled rice, which is popular as daily food with people of a few regions such as Chittagong and Syllhet, has, thus, failed to attract consumers at large, again forcing them to return home empty-handed from the OMS outlets. People are rather, as New Age reported on Wednesday, buying flour, from wheat, instead as its price has remained stable at Tk 17 a kilogram.
As non-boiled rice has been left unsold at the end of the day, many running the OMS outlets said that they could not even earn the money that they needed to pay the people working with the outlets and in fare of the trucks. Such a decision has harmed not only the consumers but also the OMS business, forcing the government to incur further losses. While consumers refuse to buy non-boiled rice, the food minister, however, sought to explain that the government was providing ‘the finest quality’ of non-boiled rice under the OMS scheme; only the people have, initially, failed to understand the quality of the rice. The minister also hoped that buyers would be standing in long queues at the OMS outlets eager to buy the non-boiled rice on offer. This appears to be a wishful thinking, which may hardly work. People are habituated to eating parboiled rice and the habit is highly unlikely to change. If the government means to afford the poor and low-income group people any relief from price spiral, it needs to cater to what they are habituated to.
All these attempts of the government are also a ploy to cover up its failure to foresee such a constraining situation that the country has now fallen into. It could not take steps in time to import food and it failed to remain prepared in the event of flooding. The government, under the circumstances, must start selling parboiled rice at the price it earlier sold. And it must learn from the mistakes it has done. Without this, the purpose of open market sales would only be defeated.
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