AN INCREASE in prices of a number of goods before Ramadan and the fresh government restrictions ordered to contain the rising rate of COVID-19 infection and mortality come with worries. Prices of rice and vegetables went up on Monday while prices of other goods have remained high for the past few months, straining the financial ability of the poor and low- and fixed-income people, who have borne the brunt of the economic distress caused by COVID-19. Prices of rice increased by Tk 2–3 a kilogram — the medium quality varieties selling for Tk 55–60, the standard varieties for Tk 64–67 and the fine varieties for Tk 68–70 while prices of some vegetables, including aubergine and cucumber, heavily used in Ramadan, rose by Tk 10–20 a kilogram on Monday. Aubergine sold for Tk 60–80 a kilogram and cucumber for Tk 60–70 a kilogram. Prices of other popular vegetable items such as papaya, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, beans and radish are also reported to have increased slightly.
While traders explain that the sudden price increase is caused by bulk buying as people thronged the market fearing further price increase in Ramadan and the restrictions, set to be in force till April 21, consumers allege that traders always find one excuse or another to increase prices in the absence of any effective market oversight. What also comes as worrying is that the retail prices of six commodities — onions, sugar, gram, red lentil, soya bean oil and dates — that the Department of Agricultural Marketing set on Monday were not maintained. The department set the prices of onions at Tk 40 a kilogram, sugar at Tk 67–68, fine quality of red lentil at Tk 97–103 and the coarse variety at Tk 61–65, the coarse variety of dates at Tk 80–100 and the fine variety at Tk 200–250 and soya bean oil at Tk 139 a litre. All the items are reported to have been sold for prices higher than what the department has set. Since the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, goods prices have increased up to 40 per cent, causing the overall food inflation to reach a record level, as a Bureau of Statistics report says, and forcing millions to cut down on their food intake.
Any disruption in supply and distribution in the coming days is highly likely to trigger a further increase in goods prices. Wholesalers and retailers are also likely to grasp any opportunity to increase the prices. The government must, therefore, effectively intervene in the market and make the traders behave through an effective monitoring mechanism at a time when most people are financially strained.
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