At Bangladesh food markets, people feel pinch from price hike at pump

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
2022.08.12
Dhaka
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At Bangladesh food markets, people feel pinch from price hike at pump Thousands gather in front of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party central office in Dhaka to protest the government’s move to increase fuel prices by about 50 percent, Aug. 11, 2022.
BenarNews

Bangladeshis say they are suffering from inflated costs for food and gas after the government imposed a steep hike on fuel prices last week, an overnight move that has deepened economic discontent and spurred street protests in the South Asian nation.

Businessmen said the hike of about 50 percent for prices at the pump has led to consumers purchasing less, while economists predicted that the nation’s poverty levels were likely to get worse. They also expressed concern about public health because people would not be able to buy and consume foods that are fresh and of good quality.

“The consequences are not good. The huge price hike and inflation would push a significant percentage of people below the poverty line,” said professor Muinul Islam, a former president of the Bangladesh Economic Association.

“People have been suffering a lot. They cannot buy the required quantity of food and other essentials they used to buy,” he told BenarNews, adding he expected “the fuel price increase would dampen progress in reducing poverty over the last decade.”

Leaders of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said thousands of people gathered in Dhaka on Thursday to protest against the fuel hike, and that similar protests were being planned across the nation through Sunday.

An Awami League government official, Finance Minister A.H.M. Mustafa Kamal, assured reporters last week that fuel prices would come down when global prices fall.

According to Islam, inflation will continue into December when an abundant supply of rice, vegetables, fish and other agricultural products is expected to reach local markets.

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A vendor waits for customers at a wholesale fruit market in Dhaka, July 17, 2022. [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

Already, produce and livestock buyers and sellers have seen the effects of the week-old spike.

Abu Sayeed, 49, who operates a retail stand selling onions, potatoes and garlic at a market in Dhaka’s Pallabi neighborhood, said his business had taken a hit.

“I sold one kilogram of onions for 30 taka (U.S. 31 cents) before the fuel price hike. Now the price is 50 taka (52 cents) and customers are buying less,” Sayeed told BenarNews on Friday.

“I used to have sales of 8,000 taka ($84.27) before lunch every day. But today, my sales were only 2,000 taka ($21) and my profit margin is 10 percent of sales so I made only 200 taka ($2) profit today,” Sayeed said, adding he has to provide for his family of four.

“Now I contemplate relinquishing my business and starting to work as a motorcycle driver,” he said.

Md. Solaiman, a wholesale onion trader at the Kawran Bazar in Dhaka, said higher truck fares have hurt business.

“Previously one truck carrying 240 sacks of onions from Pabna to Dhaka cost 16,000 taka ($168), but now the fare is 25,000 taka ($263). We have to increase the price,” he told BenarNews.

“Already, sales have fallen. Before the fuel price hike, I used to sell 50 sacks of onion per day. Now I sell at best 25 sacks per day. Like me, all traders are facing the same problem, reduced sales,” he said.

Md. Rafiq, who sells chickens in Dhaka’s Mirpur neighborhood, told BenarNews that his selling price on Friday for 1 kg of broiler chicken rose to 210 taka ($2.21) from 140 taka ($1.47) before the fuel price hike.

He said a dozen eggs, which was selling for 110 taka ($1.15), had jumped to 145 taka ($1.52).

A customer said the increase had diminished his purchasing power.

“I used to buy five dozen eggs each month. Now, I have decided to buy a maximum of two dozen to adjust the price because it has gone up but my income remains the same,” Md. Sajedur Rahman, told BenarNews while shopping at the Kawran Bazar.

“The price of rice, flour, edible oil and all other products have shot up at least 50 percent. How will people survive? People are angry,” he said.

On top of rising prices, Bangladeshis continue to deal with power outages which began more than a month ago. Officials, who blamed natural gas shortages, have established a schedule for outages across the nation including at least two hours per day in Dhaka.

‘This is not a government’

While thousands took to the streets in Dhaka on Thursday, Abu Taleb, a farmer in southwestern Meherpur district, 260 km (161 miles) from Dhaka, went on Facebook last Saturday – shortly after the fuel price hike went into effect – to criticize Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government.

On Thursday, police charged him under the Digital Security Act and a judge sent him to jail.

Passed in 2018, the act punishes those who produce or distribute content that “hurts religious sentiments or religious values” or “destroys communal harmony, or creates unrest or disorder” with up to 10 years in prison.

It empowers police to make arrests on suspicion and without a warrant. Fourteen of its 20 provisions do not allow for bail, so when those accused are brought before a magistrate, they almost automatically are sent to jail.

On Friday, a former commerce minister with the opposition BNP said the price hike and inflation could bring down the Awami League government.

“This is not a government. I call them a regime dedicated to looking after the interest of the ruling party and their associates,” Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury told BenarNews.

“They have totally disengaged themselves from the people. Election, economic policy everything is meant for them – they do not bother to look after the interests of the people,” he said.

In his view, street protests like the one in Dhaka are necessary to change the government.

“We got a huge response to Thursday’s protest. This will continue. We are sure that this government would be forced to leave like other autocratic dictators,” he said.

Shajahan Khan, an Awami League member, ruled out the possibility of the government losing power. He blamed the price hike on an international incident that Bangladesh cannot control.

“The Russia-Ukraine war has increased the price of oil and gas across the world. We import energy from abroad. The government has been forced to increase the price,” he told BenarNews.

“The BNP and the opposition have been making it an issue,” Khan said. “They do not have the capacity to dislodge the government.”

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