Disenfranchised consumer public

Syed Fattahul Alim   | Monday, 14 March 2022

A man was arrested on Friday last week for hoarding a few hundred litres (512 litres to be specific) of soybean oil from the Mohammadpur area of the city. The person is a former government employee, now a private citizen. He is 'neither a trader, nor an oil dealer', say the police. One is naturally intrigued as to why any member of the general public not known to be engaged in trading should hoard such a large quantity of pricey soybean oil in his house-- abnormally large indeed for individual consumption! Since price of this particular essential cooking item has shot up to an unprecedented level in recent weeks creating artificial crisis in some cases, the public has become very sensitive about the item.

Whatever drove the person in question, panic buying or the temptation of making a quick buck, it was obviously not morally right for a responsible citizen to have made such a slip. But what he has done cannot be compared to the crime being committed by many a big fish of the notorious edible oil syndicate of the country. They have already siphoned off thousands of millions worth of taka from the public's pocket through irrationally escalating the prices of edible oil and other essential commodities under various false pretences. Traders at the country's biggest wholesale market, Khatunganj in Chittagong, for example, have reportedly been suggesting the Ukraine-Russia war as the culprit behind the sudden instability in the essentials market. As reports go, last week, mustard oil, the traditional cooking oil of this part of the world, was selling between Tk.3,350 and Tk.3,700 per quintal (equivalent to 100 kg) at the Khatunganj market. But the prices of this oil the week before in the same market was between Tk.2,500 and Tk.2,600 per quintal. So, it is an increase ranging from Tk.850 to Tk.1,100 per quintal in a single week! But where does Ukraine war come in here in the mustard oil business? Yes, wheat can be an issue since Ukraine is a big wheat grower and the war will definitely impact the global wheat market. Interestingly, wheat was also selling dear between Tk.1170 and Tk.1250 per maund (nearly 40 kg) last week, a rise of Tk.200 per maund compared to the week before. One wonders, how can a war that started hardly a week and a half before the reporting date of the Khatunganj essentials market prices could affect the local wheat market! Actually, it should take a few months before it could perturb the world grain market, before leaving any impact here. But local wheat traders seem to be too sensitive to world events. In fact, Bangladeshi traders in essential commodities need no special reason to hike up prices.

And the consumer public here are neither duly aware nor organised about their rights as consumers. They have few forums or institutions of their own to act as a counterweight to the evil nexus between a section of profiteers and their beneficiaries among the corrupt elements in power. Sadly, this anti-people syndicate in the essentials market appears to be so invincible!


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