Govt plans OMS for grassroots
With no let-up in the spiraling rice price, the government has planned to expand Open Market Sale of subsidised foodgrains to the upazilas across the country.
The sale of rice at Tk 30 per kg was launched on Sunday at divisional and district headquarters to ease the sufferings of hard-pressed consumers when the rice price continued to go up in the retail markets.
With its food stock depleted significantly, the government has decided to postpone the distribution of Tk 10 a kg rice among 50 lakh ultra-poor, scheduled for launching today, and divert more rice into the OMS operation.
Meanwhile, three government ministers will hold a meeting with rice millers and traders in the capital today to understand the situation around the rice market amid a countrywide vigilance against suspected hoarding of rice.
In its desperate move to replenish the public food stock, the food ministry reached a primary price agreement with Myanmar for importing one lakh tonnes of rice.
The prices of coarse rice varieties have remained static at its record high -- Tk 50 to 54 a kg -- in Dhaka's retail markets.
The rice market remained volatile with the government asking the local administrations in rice-trade zones to go for occasional raids to ensure that no one hoards the staple. But rice mill owners sharply reacted to the move claiming no millers would stock rice during this pre-Aman lean season.
The millers rather attributed the price hike to domestic production shortfall, panic following fake news of India's rice export ban and the government's failure to maintain a good stock of rice in public granaries.
Abdur Rashid, president of Bangladesh Rice Mill Owners' Association, and its General Secretary Layek Ali have been asked to attend today's meeting with Agriculture Minister Begum Matia Chowdhury, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed and Food Minister Qamrul Islam.
Qamrul told The Daily Star that efforts were on to import more rice, and strict monitoring put in place to stop any move to hoard rice by traders.
Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said the OMS operation would be further extended so that people in districts and upazilas got subsidised rice.
"It's good news that after the haor crop loss [in the last Boro season] we just had a productive Aus season. In the Aus season, we harvested 27 lakh tonnes of rice, five lakh tonnes higher from last year's," she said.
She is expecting a good harvest of monsoon rice -- Aman -- in November, but until that time, she said, all stakeholders should show restrain in keeping the rice price at tolerable level.
ULTRA-POOR FOOD PROG ON HOLD
The Tk 10-per kg rice distribution under “Food Friendly Programme” was due since September 1.
After a delay for a while, the food ministry decided last Thursday that the programme would be launched today.
However, food officials confirmed yesterday that considering the low rice stock in hand and the need for higher allocation for the OMS programme, the government decided to put the Tk. 10-a kg programme on hold.
"Let us build up the rice stock first and then we'll go for the programme," said a policy planner seeking anonymity.
To run for three months (September to November) the Tk 10-a-kg-rice programme the government requires 4.5 lakh tonnes of foodgrains while to operate the OMS beyond the district-level for a month it needs some 50,000 to one lakh tonnes of rice.
Until yesterday, the public food stock had 3.45 lakh tonnes of rice while another 1.21 lakh tonnes were in the import pipeline.
WHITE RICE AND PARBOILED RICE
Most of the foodgrains in the government stock at present is imported white rice (Atap) while consumers largely prefer parboiled rice (Shiddho) when they buy the staple from OMS points.
The agriculture ministry has asked the food ministry to allocate more white rice in Sylhet, Chittagong and haor regions where consumers are habituated to having Atap, and to allocate parboiled rice in other areas.
Sources said the government would distribute white rice to the 50 lakh ultra poor under Food Friendly Programme.
RICE IMPORT FROM MYANMAR
After an overnight hectic bargaining between the visiting delegation from Myanmar and Bangladesh's state grain agency -- Directorate General of Food -- the two countries agreed yesterday on a price deal for rice import.
Bangladesh would get one lakh tonnes of white rice at $442 per tonne.
The Myanmar delegation, however, did not agree to give any price concession on export of parboiled rice and remained fixed at $485/tonne rate, which Bangladesh didn't accept.
Earlier in June, Bangladesh bought two lakh tonnes of white rice from Vietnam at $430/tonne and 50,000 tonnes of parboiled rice at $470/tonne.
ANTI-HOARDING VIGILANCE CONTINUES
Local administrations in Rajshahi, Natore, Comilla, Kushtia, among other districts, have continued keeping a watch on the rice situation to check hoarding.
In Natore, four rice mills have been fined yesterday for operating without license, and stocking more rice than they require for keeping the mills operational. Two more rice mills were fined in Rajshahi.
Speaking at a press briefing in Dhaka, Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Hoque warned against rice hoarding. He said police would take action against those found to be hoarding rice in a bid to create artificial crisis in the country.