The Cabinet Division's recent letter to the Commerce ministry instructing it to take necessary steps towards keeping prices of key essentials stable during the coming Ramzan and informing the government of the progress is a welcome step. As the country suffers from a current never-before wave of the Covid-19 pandemic with a virtual lockdown in place, it is the economy that is being hit harder, with markets and essentials behaving surreptitiously, pushing prices up for reasons inbuilt in the system. It is not for the first time that market actors have taken advantage of the rise in demand as a prelude to Ramzan. It is however the pandemic that makes things worse this year, with the informal suppliers almost obliterated because of a lack of or diminishing communication facilities. This might help cartels and syndicates to have a field day, as already evidenced; and as the aforementioned letter would suggest, the government has been quick to read through the lines.
Another issue of interest has been the useful and laudable step of the timing of the open market sale or OMS of essential items run by the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) in divisional and district towns throughout the country. The TCB's Chairman has sought help from various government agencies including law-enforcers to facilitate movement of the goods to its distribution centres. In a market economy, the best way to keep prices down is through ensuring adequate supply and that at a reasonable price. The TCB is not there to earn money or profit for the government; and since its sole aim is to supplement the private effort, long queues already seen before its trucks with goods point to the necessity of the effort. Therefore, the organisation must be helped by other public bodies in its endeavour to keep the supply chain unhindered and prices rational.
Every year price-hike of essential commodities that have a link with the consumption pattern of Ramzan hurts the poor fasting people more than others. At certain times, syndicates have a field day. This year and the preceding one have had to face an extra load, that of the pandemic. Indeed, the last few weeks surpassed all previous records in numbers of detection and deaths per day. All these call for extra vigilance on the part of people, and especially the government. While the steps taken so far by the government are praiseworthy, there appears to be a discord between the latest declaration of lockdown and its subsequent amendment in no time. While reaction from the public, or a part of it, has been one reason why things had to change so soon, it at the same time laid bare the fact that enough homework was not done. Some businesses have come out in the open in defiance of the latest closures as so many livelihoods are dependent on them. All these coming just before the Ramadan, a month of not only religious observance with daily consumption of exotic and appetising items, but also of brisk business with the Eid-ul-Fitr just after it, things do not look bright. The whole gamut of the latest lockdown must be readdressed to allow free flow of goods and services, while at the same time making people adhere to health-related advice in totality, with provision of punishment for breakers. Therefore, the Cabinet Division must step in again with another order that encompasses not only the Commerce ministry or the TCB, but the whole government, all its sectors and wings, to keep the economy moving. At the same time make sure that there is a positive momentum after the Ramadan.