Keeping prices of essentials in check
A commerce ministry mobile team, tasked to keep a tab on prices of essentials, faced severe resistance from local shop owners at Karwan Bazaar the other day. The team was barricaded by disgruntled traders till relieved by a RAB contingent. The team had to leave the place without conducting their task of market monitoring any further.
The reason for the violent reaction of the traders, reportedly, was that a sugar retailer was fined for selling sugar at a rate of Taka 4 or 5 per kg higher than that fixed by the government. The same shop was fined once before not long ago for the same reason. Selling goods at prices higher than that fixed by the government is a punishable offence, but the issue is not as simplistic as it appears.
The ministry of commerce has been operating mobile teams for sometime with a view to monitoring the retail market, hoping to keep the prices of essential in check. That is perhaps a good idea from the point of view of the consumers who are the hapless victims of unbridled manipulation of prices by traders of all hues. Unfortunately, in spite of hefty fines in some cases, market raids have not really produced the desired result and the reaction of the traders in Karwan Bazaar was perhaps something that was waiting to happen.
Regrettably, there is great disconnect between the retail and wholesale market because the wholesalers are caring two hoots for the rate fixed by the government and allegedly selling to the retailers at a good deal higher price than they ought to. To top it all, they refuse to provide sale receipt to the retailers, violating another legal requirement, that of keeping record of all transactions. And here, it is for the wholesalers who have a case to answer and perhaps not so much as the retailers.
Given that the peculiar state of the market in Bangladesh where the normal market mechanisms are never allowed to operate freely, and which defies all economic laws and principles and government directives, monitoring the retailers only may not help keep prices in check. On the contrary it may be prove counterproductive as we saw happen.
It is regrettable, but true that we are under the dreadful grip of syndicates that manipulate and control prices, and the nexus between the middlemen and extortionists. And this becomes even more severe during the period of religious festivity. And unless these are eradicated thorough government intervention, not by force, or by pecuniary penalty only, no amount of monitoring will deliver. And here there is the need for more active role of the TCB, which for some reason has been kept ineffective. It is also true that there is an odious link between the syndicates and some powerful quarters, and unless this umbilical is severed we will not be able to rid ourselves of the sufferings of price distortions.