A DEPLETING rice stock of the government and an active syndicate of millers and businessmen have come to trigger a worrying increase in rice prices. The government rice stock stood, as New Age reported on Monday, at 862,736 tonnes on October 15, which is about 35 per cent less than what it was a year ago. The government is also reported to have failed to procure the targeted amount of boro by a huge margin — the government procured about nine lakh tonnes of boro while its target was to procure 2.1 million tonnes. Such a shortage in government procurement happened largely because of errant millers who breached their contracts of supplying boro rice to the government between early May and mid-September. About 5,502 of the 19,230 rice millers with whom the government had signed deals for boro procurement failed to supply the stipulated rice despite a surplus production of the crop, according to the Directorate General of Food. The government stock is believed to plummet further by about 3 lakh tonnes as the procurement of aman is unlikely to begin before one and half a month and as the government needs 50,000 tonnes of rice for the free ration scheme and another 1.5 lakh tonnes for the food friendly programme a month.
The government needs to have at least 1.3 million tonnes of rice in its stock to prevent millers from manipulating prices. What is worrying is that the country has produced, according to different estimates, about 20 million tonnes of boro paddy and that the rise in rice price is not because of a shortage of rice, but because of a manipulation of the market by profit-mongering millers and businessmen. Such an unholy manipulation — the top 50 rice millers with 20 per cent of the national milling capacity has the power to influence the supply and prices of rice, according to the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies — has caused price hike of about 41 per cent of the coarse variety of rice and about 17 per cent of the fine variety in a year. A kilogram of coarse rice is currently being sold for up to Tk 48, which was sold at Tk 38 last year, while a kilogram of fine rice now sells at Tk 60 which was sold at Tk 52 last year. The increase has been a double burden for people, especially for the poor and the low- and fixed-income people, whose purchasing capacity has already decreased substantially because of the COVID-19-induced economic slowdown.
In a time when a large number of people are financially constrained, the government must not let the rice market become unstable. The government must, under the circumstances, raise its stock, bring the errant millers to book and attend to the issues of market manipulation by profit-mongering syndicate. What is also urgent is that the government puts an effective monitoring mechanism in place to intervene in the market.
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