People wait in queues in front of an open market sales outlet in Dhaka to buy items at comparatively low prices amid a continued price hike. — Sony Ramany

Government-subsidised food shops are overcrowded with people as prices of food and other essentials continued to increase, severely affecting people’s purchasing capacity.

Although subsidised shops are usually visited by the poor, the presence of middle class people is gradually increasing there.

Economists said that falling income coupled with soaring food prices forced the people to scramble for subsidised food.

Making life even more difficult for the people, the government from Thursday increased prices of subsidised sugar and edible oil by Tk 5 and Tk 10 a kilogram respectively.

A litre of soya bean oil now costs Tk 100, a kilogram of sugar Tk 55, a kilogram of red lentil Tk 55, a kilogram of onion Tk 20 and a kilogram of chickpeas at Tk 55 at subsidised shops operated by the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.

‘Yet again the government makes it clear that it cares little about people,’ Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies professorial fellow M Asaduzzaman told New Age, reacting to the latest increase of subsidised food price.

Economists said that food prices usually shot up ahead of Ramadan as demands increase but the government should have taken special measures to keep the price under control amid the novel virus outbreak.

On April 1, coarse rice, flour, potato, edible oil, beef, chicken, sugar, packaged powder milk and condiments were costlier compared with their prices on the same day the year before.

Some of the items saw close to 50 per cent increase in price.

The current market price of a kilogram of coarse rice is Tk 48 while a kilogram of onion costs up to Tk 35, red lentil up to Tk 140, sugar Tk 70 and edible oil Tk 121, according to TCB.

People however may need to spend more depending on the market they are buying from as the price of onion was found selling at Tk 45 a kilogram at places while edible oil at Tk 140.

‘It seems as if the government does not know how hard life has become due to the health crisis.’ said Sheuly, a resident of Maddha Badda, referring to the increase in subsidized food price.

The supply of subsidised food was so inadequate that Sheuly returned empty-handed on most of the days she tried to buy essentials save for only two days in the month of March.

Economist MM Akash said that there must be many new faces in the crowd for the number of poor doubled following the first wave of the coronavirus infections.

‘Many more new faces are likely to join the crowd soon with the second wave of coronavirus outbreak unfolding,’ he said.

A total of 500 truck-mounted subsidised shops are operating six days a week except for public holidays across Bangladesh with each truck targeting to reach about 400 families with minimum 2 kilograms of each of the items.

Only 100 shops are operating in Dhaka where four million people live in slums in two Dhaka city corporations areas alone.

‘I need everything, and I am going to buy as much as I can,’ said Probhakor Mallick, when asked what he plans to buy at a subsidised shop in Tejgaon.

Probhakor was standing in a crowd where people hardly cared about social distancing and wearing masks.

Centre for Policy Dialogue distinguished fellow Professor Mustafizur Rahman said that increase in food price was the last thing people expected at this time of crisis.

‘Poor spend half of their income buying food. They get in deep trouble when food prices rise,’ he said.

TCB spokesperson Humayun Kabir said that they had to adjust prices keeping up with the market to prevent misuse of food.

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