A legal instrument for controlling essential- commodity prices and price manipulation by businesses has been in place only on paper. Prices have spiralled with virtually little effective action to stem the tide, bar some post-facto televised drives.
Some fiscal and monetary interventions, too, seem to be transformed into means of maximising profits by a section of big businesses, while consumers of all classes pay through their nose. Such scrounging is revealed even by those in authority.
The legal shield seems lying blunted for a lack of use to take punitive action against hoarding and blatant price manipulation.
'The Essential Commodities Distribution and Distributor Recruitment Order 2011', therefore, provides no relief to the consumers for what people think the authorities' lack of interest to enforce the order against dishonest producers, importers and traders. The ministry of commerce issued the order under the 'Control of Essential Commodities Act 1956'.
Non-enforcement encouraged traders to manipulate essentials' prices at their sweet will from time to time by hoarding, creating artificial shortage of essentials. The current price hike of cooking oils illustrates the inefficacy of the order. Consumer rights activists blame government inaction for the artificial cooking-oil crisis created to jack up prices.
The order requires producers and importers of essentials to appoint one or more distributors for each upazila and district town as well as city and keep a national committee, headed by the commerce ministry secretary, informed about it by sending a list of the distributors. It also requires producers and the importers to keep the national committee informed about the monthly supply status of essential consumer goods using fax and email or by post.
As per its provision, the millers must issue supply order to their designated dealers with the prices and quantities of the items sent to them. The order also states in clear terms that the non-transferrable supply orders would be valid for 15 days.
On the other side of the business regime, the national committee has got to collect data from the upazilas, districts and the cities at least once every month to evaluate the situation with regard to the stock, supplies, sales and the prices of essential consumer goods for taking action against manipulations and keeping the domestic market stable.
However, it was good to know that Bangladesh Competition Commission moved out of late for a sort of action after the event. It sued eight edible oil firms on May 12 for manipulating supply and local production of cooking ingredients.
Price gambling was also played on the most essential of essentials--rice. The situation went to such a pass that the food minister himself blurted out names of six big-wig corporates as rice hoarder. There were huge hauls of rice in stick.
Section 6 of the Control of Essential Commodities Act 1956 stipulates three years' jail, with or without fines, for violations of the marketing order.