Fair price centres and the poor

-FE file photo -FE file photo

The highly depressing picture printed in this daily on last January 7 could be defined in many ways. The photograph of a group of women engaged in a fierce brawl could be defined as nasty or ugly. Many would feel tempted to call the view nauseating. Ever since the start of the TCB sales points to help the corona-affected poor in Dhaka, this desperation to get essentials at fair price has not been seen. There have been views of resentment and frustration over the late arrivals of the TCB trucks. Many are found leaving the spots muttering in a mix of anger and disappointment.

A common feature distinguishes the whole sight. The intending buyers of the TCB goods would be found standing in queues since early dawn. Their wait, in cases, appears infinite to the people assembled there. On occasions, the eagerly awaited trucks are found not turning up, or changing the designated spots without prior notice.

The city of Dhaka has been used to these views since long. TCB or other government agency trucks are found selling essential cooking ingredients after the country starts passing through acute crises of these items. The ones which dominate the goods include rice, pulses, oil, sugar, onions, etc. At times complaints of selling stale and non-consumable foods and ingredients are levelled against the sales authorities. Yet, out of sheer desperation many consumers are compelled to purchase these nearly inedible food ingredients. Normally countrywide rice scarcity warrants the operation of these emergency sales points. It's mainly the lower and lower-middle classes of the urban areas who emerge as regular visitors to these sales points. The scarcity of rice chiefly occurs due to low yields caused by flooding, drought and other natural calamities. Non-natural disasters like supply disruptions, broken communication network and other irregularities may also lead to non-availability of rice and other essentials. They are also caused by tense socio-political situations. The ongoing TCB-run fair price sales operation is induced by the pandemic of Covid-19.

Almost two years into it, the pandemic period has seen widespread income losses in the villages. In the capital Dhaka the peaceful lives of the lower and lower-middle class people have been jolted by the corona-prompted unemployment. Although the victims of the pandemic's fallout were supposed to be those comprising the ultra-poor and the low-income segments, people with lower-middle income status are also rushing to the TCB sales venues. This development only demonstrates the extent to which even the relatively privileged classes have been ravaged by the pandemic --- which has forced them to throng the TCB sales points. Unlike the habitual buyers of food items at fair price sites, the small crowd of these people prefers to remain undetected by the passersby. This is but one of the flipsides of these fair price or open sales centres.

Coming to the timely arrival and departure of the fair price goods-laden trucks, there have been series of dissatisfactions among the clients. Except for a few well-known spots at the fixed urban points like Jatiya Press Club, the temporary and less-known sales centres have also emerged as potent causes of the marginalised people's sufferings. During their long, uncertain waits, many of them are seen standing or sitting on the edges of footpaths in the open. They have to suffer the heat of the scorching sun during summer. Rain drenches them. Winter appears with biting cold. But they cannot leave the spots. They have the fear that they may not get back their convenient place the next time.

The residents of Dhaka have long been used to these open-sale or fair price sales centres operating from trucks. Thanks to the high intensity of the pandemic's onslaught, the situation this time is different. Rarely in the past Dhaka and the other cities in Bangladesh confronted the misfortune of encountering these chaotic spectacles. The fair price sale of essentials programme began peacefully. Seeing its success and the poorer people's rising interest in the programme, it was replicated all over Dhaka.The happy people returning home with edible oil containers, bags of rice and pulses is a heartening spectacle. The traditional picture showed the poor thronging the sales points hours ahead of their opening. Scuffles over reserved marks in the queue, assigning dummy clients to stand in the place of a genuine person --- all this leading to fisticuffs was once a common picture. It remains in place like before. The bedlam is very much there. What makes today's scenario remarkably different is the improvement in the quality of the products being sold at the TCB fair price sales points. In place of stale and worm-eaten rice, wheat and pulses, these days the government-run sales centres have widened their product range. Onions are the latest in the essentials' list. Compared to the earlier days, onions and other perishable items these days are of better quality. Perhaps due to this reason lots of apparently well-off people are seen on the line behind TCB trucks. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic impact, a sizeable number of fixed-income people slipped down the indices of economic wellbeing. Most of them cannot shed their ingrained inhibitions of being from the middle-class background.

Against this backdrop, the allegations of irregularities and chaos plaguing the open sales and fair price mobile market sadden the optimists. Apart from the often-abnormal behaviour of the fair price market, impromptu syndicates are found employing their crooked techniques to make a quick buck. The authorities concerned ought to be aware of their activities.


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