Subsidized rice and flour meant for Open Market Sale among poor groups are being sold in the black market due to no or lax monitoring by the government.
This resulted in virtual collapse of the Open Market Sale introduced by the government to protect financially vulnerable groups when essential prices get unaffordable for them.
OMS dealers adopted various tactics to discourage poor groups from buying rice and flour from their trucks to be able to sell the most of the supplies in the black market.
During filed visits, New Age saw that the dealers start their Open Market Sale from trucks one to three hours behind the schedule and leave the spots with most of the stocks after selling for barely one or two hours.
The rules require the dealers to sell rice and flour at discount prices for eight hours without any break from 9 AM to 5 PM.
In connivance with monitoring officials they show
that the allocated stocks had been fully sold among the poor.
Food officials assigned to monitor the OMS operations pay brief and occasional visits to the spots when the sales are on to certify that everything is fine.
The irregularities are so widespread and brazen that they were visible at all the five spots in the capital between April 8 and 22.
On five different days New Age spent the eight designated hours at the spots and found the irregular OMS activities.
But Dhaka Rationing chief controller Tapan Kumar Das dismissed the irregularities as ‘minor deviations by not the dealers but their staff.’
‘We have our shortcomings,’ said Tapan.
Transparency International Bangladesh executive director Iftekharuzzaman termed the irregularities as ‘glaring examples of corruption foiling a praiseworthy initiative of the government.’
‘A corrupt group is pocketing the profits by depriving the poor,’ said Iftekhar.
He demanded a thorough probe by the government to identify loopholes in its monitoring mechanism to curb the huge pilferage.
He also demanded legal steps against the perpetrators.
‘We can’t refute the allegations outright,’ additional director general of food Arifur Rahman Apu told New Age.
He said that it might happen due to ‘weak monitoring mechanism.’
‘We need specific information to scotch the loopholes,’ he said.
New Age saw that the pilferage occurs in broad daylight.
At exactly 12:25 pm on April 15, two sacks of rice was openly stolen from a blue pick-up mounted OMS outlet at Merul Badda.
A white pick-up, Dhaka Metro Na – 1301440 was used to remove the rice sacks from the blue pick-up with the number plate Dhaka Metro Na – 141178 in less than a minute.
The white-pick-up sped away and less than five minutes later the driver parked it on the busy intersection of the Link Road to sell the stolen coarse rice at the rate of Tk 42 per kg, that is Tk 12 more than the OMS rate of Tk 30 per kg.
The entire proceedings were photographed by New Age.
Seated beside the driver of the white pick-up the person who supervised the rice stealing identified himself as OMS dealer Khaleque.
He admitted that the vehicle he was using was not an OMS pick-up.
He said he bought the rice meant for sale at subsidized price to the security forces.
He was also selling flour for Tk 24 per kg though it was supposed to be sold at Tk 17 from an OMS truck.
The market price of flour is Tk 26 per kg.
At 2.20 PM sharp six rickshaws were parked almost touching the blue pick-up mounted Merul Badda OMS outlet and as a rickshaw puller took a sack full of rice delivered by an OMS salesman. A middle-aged bearded man boarded rickshaw and immediately it sped away toward Rampura.
During operation the other rickshaw pullers stood guard to see whether anyone was witnessing the pilferage. They also waited for their turns to do the same.
As they saw New Age reporter taking photographs of the proceedings from other side of the road he left the spot quietly.
Since March, 637 OMS shops began selling flour and imported coarse rice to poor groups across the country, 120 n the capital at subsidized prices.
Each poor person is entitled to buy five kg of rice or five kg of flour or both the items weighing 10 kg.
A buyer has the option to buy less.
Each OMS dealer gets one tonne of rice and two tonnes of flour from the government every day.
It would require 600 buyers to buy the full daily allocation of a dealer if everyone buys 5 kg of rice or flour.
On April 8, the OMS outlet at Begunbari, Tejgaon, sold both the items to only 18 persons because each of them agreed to buy five kg of rice and five kg of flour.
But many others were seen leaving empty handed as the dealer refused to sell to them because they could not afford to buy five kg of rice and five kg of flour.
The denial hurt 60-year old Mariam who had gone to buy a small quantity of rice.
‘It’s a dirty trick of the OMS dealer,’ she said, ‘who does not know a poor person can’t afford to buy five kg of rice and five kg of flour at a time.’
The truck mounted outlet began the sales at 11.15 AM, over two hours behind the schedule took an unauthorized lunch break for 45 minutes from 12.20 PM and stopped selling at 1.55 PM almost three hours before the schedule.
Local grocer Yasin Ali said that the OMS dealer chose the sales hours when poor, who are too many in the area, won’t be available as they were away to earn their living.
Later, OMS dealer Mosharraf Hossain said that low commission on sales forces them to do what he did at Begunbari.
Unaware that New Age monitored the proceedings, he said that the full allotment for April 8 had been sold out.
But his staff were seen taking much of the unsold stocks to a house at Nakhalpara.
Dhaka Rationing chief controller Tapan Kumar Das said that an employee of the food department was assigned to inspect two OMS outlets in addition to his or her normal duty.
At Badda, Tejgaon ang Mohammadpur, new Age found three government supervisors doing their duty only on three days and they were not available in the rest of the two weeks.
But they refused to speak.
On April 19, no food supervisor could be found on Ring Road at Mohammadpur, where customers were looking for the OMS shop that was not there.
At around 1 PPM, a pick-up, Bhola Na- 110099, was seen parked at Mouhammadpur Town Hall, with two banners, one hung in the front with the inscription ‘OMS Truck Sales,’ the other one in the rear with the inscription ‘Fair Price Shop.’
The banners were quite misleading as OMS outlets sell coarse rice and flour among the poor while ‘Fair Price Shop’ run by the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh sells not for the needy groups.
It was all the more confusing because TCB’s Fair Price Shops are suspended now.
At least a dozen rickshaw pullers said that despite search they saw no OMS shop for a week.
‘I eat less as I cannot afford to buy rice from the market,’ said 65-year-oldfrail rickshaw puller Hafizuddin.
Agricultural economist Jahangir Alam Khan said that irregularities in the OMS system challenged the government goal to ensure food security for all.
‘A social security system plagued by corruption would eventually lead the needy people to question why the government took these programmes,’ said Jahangir.
Bangladesh’s numerous social security programmes to feed the poor were far from effective due to endemic corruption.
On April 12, two poor men were hit by bullets when a government appointed dealer for selling rice at Tk 10 per kg at Kurigram, known for its stark poverty opened fire on villager who were protesting that no rice was sold to them at the subsidized price for several weeks.
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