The Financial Express

Too many straws on a camel's back

| Updated: November 19, 2021 20:45:14

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Las week Bangladesh government increased the price of diesel and kerosene by 23 per cent. Consequently, they had to increase the fares of bus, truck and motor launches by as much as 27 per cent to 35 per cent in the wake of massive movement including strike called by transport workers and owners. The tactful demand of the Transport Workers and Owners' Association was either to reduce the price of diesel and kerosene to its previous level or increase transport fares lest they should keep their vehicles off the street.

The government was in a dilemma. If they withdrew their decision to increase the price of diesel and kerosene, they would incur a heavy loss because of the substantial increase of crude oil in the international market. If they increased the transport fare, the common people, who were already reeling to their knees as an aftermath of prolonged Covid-19 pandemic, would have to bear the brunt. Ironically, when the crude oil price was almost half of what it is now in the international market, our government did not bother to reduce the price of diesel or kerosene in the local market on one pretext or other.

The ultimate load on the common people will be three-fold. They will have to pay more for diesel and kerosene required for their domestic or agricultural use. They will have to bear additional cost of increased transport fare. They will have to pay more for purchase of their essential commodities, the prices of which have already started showing an upward trend beyond the buying capacity of the middle and low income group people. The market price of essential items are already unaffordable to most people. Increase of petroleum price and transport fare will only increase their plight. 

The government nevertheless gave in to the pressure of the Transport Workers and Owners' Association and opted for the latter without giving any consideration to the miserable plight of the poorer section of the society with the thought that it would be easier to handle them because they had no other alternative than commuting by public transport to carry on with their daily jobs and earn their livelihood. They could not afford to see these vehicles off the roads for a longer period.

So the government has increased the diesel operated bus, truck and launch fares and that also at such a generous rate which probably even the transport owners did not expect and the people after a lot of halla-golla (hue and cry) for a few days have accepted the decision as fait accompli. To see the consequences of the pain and agony that had hurt them from inside, we shall have to wait till the next general election, although it does not really matter much to the political parties, especially the party in power. They know how to mesmerize the voters and win election, nay a landslide victory.

It may not be out of context to raise some questions regarding the increase of transport fares. The government has increased the price of diesel and kerosene by 23 per cent. Fuel is not the only component to calculate the cost of operation of a transport vehicle. There are many other factors such as maintenance cost, staff salary, road taxes and so on.  Fuel may not be contributing more than 40 per cent of the total cost involved while calculating the transport fare. The cost of all these components other than fuel did not increase. Why is it then the transport authorities agreed to increase bus fare by 26.5 to 27 per cent and that of motor launches by 35 per cent?

 Most of the trucks are reportedly gas operated. The government has not increased the price of gas. Why is it then all the truck owners are charging higher price for carrying goods? Why the CNG three wheelers are also reportedly charging higher fares from the passengers? These are some of the questions the public would be expecting an answer from the concerned authorities. Whether they will give or at all be able to give any satisfactory reply is a different matter. Be that as it may, let's take a holistic approach and see the overall picture of our economic life in the next couple of years, if not beyond. Bangladesh like many other countries around the world is going through an economic recession due to prolonged Covid-19 pandemic. Crude oil price has shot up thereby aggravating the already shrunk global economy.

Bangladesh, a country of 170 million people with less than USD 7 a day per capita income on average finds it too difficult for its vast majority of people to make both ends meet.  The worst thing is: the gap between the rich and the poor is already huge and it is widening every day. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The awful result being 20 per cent people of the country now possess 80 per cent of the country's total wealth and the remaining 80 per cent people possess only 20 per cent wealth.  The policy makers and the think tanks of the country ought to find some ways to narrow down the gap drastically if they want the people of this country to live happily and peacefully.

The ordinary people of this country are like camels. They can carry load, but how much can they? There are now, as destined to be, too many straws on their backs. It is high time we stopped becoming reckless and put further loads on their backs lest they should stumble down to the desert, never to stand up again on their own feet and resume their strenuous journey.

Already shattered by the pandemic mentally and physically, a vast majority of people of this country are equally devastated economically. Many have no job and so no earning. Whatever meagre savings they had, got spent for survival of their family members during the prolonged lockdown sitting idle at home with no job, no employment. Now they are literally paupers. Revival of the country's economy and so the economic recovery of these people in the near future is a far cry.

The government ought to think of the capacity of these people before putting further loads on their backs. They are already reeling to their knees with the financial burden. They are simply unable to carry any further load, not even a straw.


Capt. Hussain Imam, Master Mariner (UK) is a retired Merchant Marine Officer.

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