The Commerce Ministry's recent step to sell online TCB's fair-price commodities to the middle class consumers is a practical measure. It is undeniable that the country's urban middle class is also not free of the economic and income-related woes in the pandemic time. Apparently the initiative has two objectives. The first is relieving the 'prestige-conscious' middle class of embarrassment. A feeling of unease may overtake them in case they stand in queues near the TCB (Trading Corporation of Bangladesh) trucks selling the products at street corners. Second, the venture is set to enhance the acceptability of the network of e-commerce in the country. Moreover, this will add much impetus to the government goal of digital Bangladesh. Apart from Dhaka, the facility will be available now in Tangail and Sirajganj districts. The food items are edible oil, chickpeas, sugar and lentils.
Being operated by the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB) Digital agent, the TCB products are sold to the middle class families through eight organisations at fair prices. The activity is set to continue till May 6. As per the price chart, the price of the edible oil has been fixed at Tk 108 per litre. Sugar, chickpeas and lentils are set to be sold at Tk 58 a kilogram. According to the purchase ceiling, consumers will be able to buy no more than 5.0 litres of oil, 3kg of sugar, chickpeas and lentils a week. The delivery charge has been fixed for households inside Dhaka at Tk 30 and areas outside the capital at Tk 40.
In terms of the facility extended to the middle class families, the programme couldn't have been timelier due to the adverse time facing people. The adversities have their roots in people's income erosion and also in the pandemic-time requirement of abiding by social distancing. Selling cooked products, especially snacks and fast food, to clients online has been in operation in the capital for the last 2/3 years. Lately, many middle class people have turned to purchasing rice, pulses, spices, edible oil, sugar, salt etc from online outlets. The online market of kitchen items has long started becoming competitive. In this context, sale of a few essential food products at fair price through this mode from a state-owned entity comes as a considerable support.
It is especially so, with its apparently hazard-free delivery at home, even in this age of the fast-spreading e-commerce. This aspect of product deliveries, thus, warrants the need for close surveillance of the market operating online. A few hitherto unidentified snags may crop up with the market operating in full swing. Those may range from the supply of products not up to the mark, inordinate delay in the delivery of the purchased items by the e-commerce outlet staffers and ineptness of some others. Demanding increased charges by the delivery staff on the plea of longer distance of delivery points than the fixed one may result in unwarranted complications. The authorities ought to be watchful, so that petty glitches do not spoil the otherwise laudable e-commerce programme. The sale of food products like rice at 'lower' price on truck-based Open Market Sale (OMS) through TCB has been a decades-old operation. But this operation is conventional, at times triggering public resentment. The present TCB-run e-commerce market centring around four selected food items follows a radically different modus operandi. The programme needs to be expanded to benefit more people.