Lutfur Rahman, a resident of Shuritola, never thought he would reach such a point in his life where he would have to purchase essentials from a government subsidised OMS truck. But there he was yesterday, standing in a long queue leading up to a truck that came to his area.
Lutfor was never really comfortable with his economics, but he still managed to take care of his five-member family before the pandemic. Once the shutdown set in though, his income almost halved, and the recent hike in the price of essentials -- the price of onions has almost doubled since Monday night -- just pushed him over the line.
"I used to earn Tk 40,000 every month. But it's now come down to Tk 15,000-20,000. It's such reached a point where I can no longer withstand sudden price hike of essentials," Lutfor told this newspaper. "I never thought it would get to this, but I just had to stand in line for an hour to buy my onions, soybean oil, sugar, and lentils."
This is not just Lutfor's story. Due to the joint offensive of the coronavirus and the price hike, many from the middle and lower income groups are being forced to go to OMS trucks, sometimes coming from faraway on foot.
Considering the hardships, the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) has started selling four essential commodities through these trucks from September 13.
However, there's only 40 trucks in the city against this huge demand, which makes it difficult for most to access them. The situation isn't much better outside Dhaka. There's a meagre 235 trucks that operate outside the city.
There's 10 in Chattogram, seven in Rangpur, five each in Mymensingh, Rajshahi, Khulna, Barishal, Sylhet, Bogura and Cumilla, three each in Jhenidah and Madaripur and two each in rest of the districts. The trucks will be in operation till October 1.
Every dealer in a truck is allocated 500 to 700kg sugar, 400 to 600kg lentil, 700 to 1,000-litre soybean oil, and 200 to 400kg onion.
The price of sugar per kg is Tk 50, lentil is Tk 50, soybean oil per kg is Tk 80, and onion (large ones) per kg is being sold at Tk 30.
"I have come here walking around half an hour. My income has already dropped to Tk 7,000 to Tk 8,000 monthly from Tk 15,000 to Tk 16,000. I can no longer afford to buy from grocers," said Ilias Hossain, a small trader of Armabag area.
Even after the long walks and longer lines, each person was allocated only one kg of onion. The dealers say it's because of the huge demands. "We got 300kg onions from TCB. We can't keep up with the demand, so we've decided to limit each purchase to one kg," said Md Shohag, manager of a dealer who sells through a mobile truck at Kachukhet.
"I spent over one hour just to find out the location of the truck (at Kachukhet), but now I'm told I can buy only one kg of onion," said a frustrated Md Sharok of Boubazar area of Mirpur's Shewrapara.
Initially, there was an instruction to provide 2kg per person, but the authorities concerned have asked them to limit it to one kg, said Shohag.
Shohag said customers have almost doubled ever since India's announcement of banning onion export to Bangladesh broke.
Mohammad Sajal, in-charge of a truck at Abdul Gani Road, said many people had to return empty handed over the last two days as his truck ran out of stock.
PRICES STILL HIGH
During a visit at four kitchen markets -- Dhupkhola, Kachukhet, Ibrahimpur and Shewrapara -- this newspaper found that local onions were selling at Tk 80 to Tk 100 per kg, while Indian ones went at Tk 65 to Tk 80.
People at the markets were still panic buying the item till yesterday afternoon, fearing further rise of price.
Manager of Messers Udayan Banijjalay in Kachukhet wholesale market said they are selling local onion at Tk 82 to Tk 84 while Indian ones went at Tk 66.
"Many customers are purchasing onions by the sacks, weighing 50 to 67kg. They said they are doing this out of precaution of further price hike," he said.
These kinds of panicked buying is the main cause of increasing price of onions, he added.