March 15 is celebrated as World Consumer Rights Day. In order to uphold the rights and interests of consumers, the day is celebrated in Bangladesh like other countries through various events. Consumers' lives are already mundane due to the costly price of everyday products. Last January inflation was 8.57 percent. On the other hand, overall price inflation rose to 8.78 percent in February. Overall inflation also increased in February mainly due to the increase in the price of food products. The rise in oil prices after the start of the Ukraine war has added a new dimension to this. Due to the increase in transportation and production costs, there has been an opportunity for price hikes. From rice, pulses, edible oil, cooking gas, chicken meat, vegetables, there is no commodity in the market whose prices are not increasing by leaps and bounds. There is no denying, our standard of living has improved, income has also increased but in the same time, the uncontrolled and unbridled rise in commodity prices is making people's lives really miserable. Consumers are wary of the excessive prices in the market, especially the low-income people, who are spending all their income to buy minimum food items for survival. They don't have money to spend on health, treatment, education etc. The long line of consumers in front of the TCB car shows how helpless they are with the price! They can neither say, can nor bear. Here consumer rights are nothing but waiting like pilgrim crows!
The price of daily necessities is increasing several times more than the rate at which income is increasing. One reason is that there is no effective control of the concerned authorities over the market. There is also no market monitoring, supervision and remedial measures accordingly. The poor, retired civil servants, senior citizens and low-income marginals are the most affected by the costly prices of daily commodities. Most vulnerable are the elderly. They are neither the dead of the house, nor the dead of the ghat. The situation is even worse for the employees who have honestly spent their careers. Because their saving pension or gratuity money during working life is the only asset. They have bought savings bonds with the money saved at the end of life. They have to complete their family life with the profit money of this savings card. As if to bring salt to drink, the situation or the drought on death!
In fact, the government is completely indifferent to the increase in commodity prices. Syndicated traders are raising the prices of daily necessities on various pretexts and putting common people in trouble. Once the price of a commodity increases, it does not decrease. Even though various government organizations are working in this regard, they are not playing an effective role, so the price of goods is not coming under control. There is an organization called Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) but their activities are not that noticeable. Although it is established to protect the rights of the consumers, how much they actually protect the rights of the consumers is a matter of public opinion. Their activities are a lot of folk drama. Besides, it is observed that many exporters are exporting various types of products including vegetables to foreign countries without meeting the needs of the country in the hope of extra profit and the government is not monitoring the matter.
Economists consider inflation as the biggest enemy of the economy. Because inflation reduces people's purchasing power, increases the suffering of middle and lower income people and makes the living standards of consumers miserable. People once plunged into despair and social unrest increased. Consumer price inflation has also outstripped inflationary volatility. But the recent rise in prices of chicken meat, edible oil, gas has surpassed all previous records, consumer rights are insignificant compared to fire prices.
Onions aren't the only ones hitting the market. Recently, chicken meat, oil and gas are spreading the heat. There is also fire in the vegetable market. Commodity prices are on fire, consumers are common, consumer rights are really being violated. After the COVID-19 epidemic, the income of all people is already low. Many people lost their jobs and some lost their business. In the rise of everyday goods, the poor condition of people with limited income. Farmers are also not getting fair price. The middlemen and syndicates are profiting from this. Their violence is so rampant that they hold retail traders and consumers in their hands hostage. No matter how much the government says they are controlling the market, in reality it seems that the syndicates are controlling the government! What the government is doing is nothing but a drama. In fact, the government has no control over commodity prices. Farmers do not get fair price for producing crops, hence they lose motivation. If the government had given fair prices and incentives to the farmers, the price hike would not have been so much.
At present, the price of every essential product such as rice, oil, chicken meat, vegetables etc. is increasing. Businessmen give one excuse after another as the reason for the increase in the price of each commodity and the government joins them in unison. However, there are some products whose prices rise even when there is no shortage in supply. Moreover, if you pay extra money, there is no product which is not available in the market, that is, a group of crooked syndicates are shaking the handle from behind and common people are paying the price, consumers are losing their fair rights. Their pockets are cut daily, but there is no one to watch, the consumers are silent and extremely helpless.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, rising oil prices have increased production costs, transport-rentals, medical and education costs. The price of public and private services has also increased. People's income is not increasing at the rate at which commodity prices are increasing. The relationship between the price of everyday products and the way of life is very close. How a family conducts their daily life depends on their income, needs and commodity prices. When the price of every essential commodity is at a tolerable level and within the purchasing power of the common people, they live comfortably. On the other hand, when the prices of daily necessities become disproportionate to the financial compatibility of the common man, unrest begins in the poor and ultra-poor families. Therefore, due to the increase in commodity prices, on the one hand, the black shadow of suffering descends on public life. On the other hand, due to profiteers, black marketeers there is a chaotic situation in the country, consumers remain calm.
Due to the increase in the prices of daily commodities, no product is available at a fair price anymore. Every product is like a fire of greater value. But this was not the case even a decade or two ago. People used to live as best they could. During Shaista Khan's period, the story of eight maunds of rice for money is like a fairy tale of the time. Even during the British rule, the country's commodity prices were under control. After the partition of the country in 1947, the condition of the country changed drastically, but the price of the goods was within the reach of the common man. Food security is closely related to social security. Lately it is heard that some people are getting involved in criminal activities out of the urge to survive, which is a very worrying picture.
To prevent the rise in prices of daily commodities, first of all political stability and accountability must be ensured. If illegal smuggling and hoarding can be stopped, the price of goods will not increase. Bangladesh's agrarian society needs to increase agricultural production and ensure fair prices for produce. In this case, scientific method of cultivation, improved seeds, abundant fertilizers and irrigation system should be coordinated to get the best yield from the agricultural land. If the production of agricultural products increases, the prices will remain stable. The government should have strict control over the market. Strict punishment should be imposed against the profiteers. Supply of products should be fixed by modernizing and starting production of the closed down factories of the country. Unbridled corruption in the country must be ended. The most important thing is that all the people of the country should be motivated by patriotism and devote themselves to the welfare of the country.
Low-income people suffer the most due to the increase in the prices of daily commodities. Therefore, to protect their interests, the supply of daily necessities must be ensured. The government should have full control over the market. The people of the country should also strive so that the unscrupulous businessman cannot increase the price of the goods as he wishes. It should be remembered that profiteering is the main obstacle in the way of development of society. Therefore, to keep the wheels of the economy moving, the increase in commodity prices must be controlled. Quick action should be taken against all visible and invisible syndicates. For this reason, consumer rights and safety must be ensured by controlling the price of daily commodities for the common and low-income people to live well.
Md. Zillur Rahaman is a
banker and a columnist.