350 trucks started selling oil, sugar, onion, and lentil at 50 points in Dhaka on March 17
Prices of a number of food items and household essentials have gone up as people continued shopping amid the coronavirus scare, ignoring the government's urge not to hoard.
Several government sources have, however, assured that there are enough food items stocked in the country and hoarding goods is unnecessary.
Visiting several markets in the capital, our correspondents found that some consumers have been buying three to four maunds of rice while they need only 20 kilogrammes of it a month.
Some were buying 20 kilogrammes of onion to stock while they needed only 5 kilogrammes.
Seven teams of the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP) conducted drives in Karwan Bazar, New Market, Hatirpool, Krishi Market, Town Hall, Mirpur Shah Ali Market, Shanti Nagar, Khilgaon-Taltola, Basabo and Uttara Kreta-Bikreta Samabay Market to stop the panic-buying on Wednesday.
Two teams from the commerce ministry have also been monitoring the market.
During the drives, the DNCRP teams advised the panicked buyers to not hoard food items and requested the sellers not to exploit the crisis as well.
Manzur Mohammad Shahrier, deputy director of the DNCRP, told The Business Standard, "We have started conducting drives to raise awareness among the buyers and sellers. These nine teams will be in the field every day."
Sellers will be punished if they try to make extra profits despite the recent drives, he added.
Golam Rahman, president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh, said consumers are facing losses as some businessmen have increased prices of products.
He said, "Nobody knows when the coronavirus crisis will be over. There is no point in hoarding food items at home."
Rather, the consumers should complain to the DNCRP if any seller charges extra for any product, he said.
He also opined that the government should monitor the market more.
Due to the buying spree, price of rice has increased by Tk2-5 per kilogramme in the last couple of days, while that of lentil and sugar rose by Tk5 per kilogramme and Tk2 per kilogramme respectively.
Prices of milk powder like Dano, Diploma, Fresh, Marks increased by Tk50-100 per kilogramme.
Meanwhile, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi urged people not to panic as the government has enough stock of food grains and daily household items amid the pandemic fear that caused jitters around the world.
At a press briefing at the ministry on Wednesday, the minister claimed that there is no scope for shortage of goods.
"The government has stocked about 40 percent more goods this year than it did in the previous year," he said.
"The government imported 2.6 lakh tonnes of pulses in 2018-19 financial year. We have already imported 2.1 lakh pulses in seven months," he added.
Tipu also warned that the ministry would take stern action if anyone charges extra from retail customers.
"Now, seven mobile teams are working to keep the market prices stable. The number of mobile teams will be almost doubled from Thursday," he said.
"We have asked the deputy commissioners to convey the message to people in their respective districts in order to prevent commodity price hike," the minister added.
Sources said the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) have finished preparations as per a directive from the commerce ministry. They have stocks of some products 10-12 times larger than those in the previous years.
To expand sales operations, the number of trucks used for selling essentials has been increased from 187 to 350. These trucks started selling oil, sugar, onion, and lentil at 50 points in Dhaka on March 17, to mark the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's.
Md Humayun Kabir, a TCB official, said, "We have expanded our capacity and stocked sufficient amount of products to overcome any crisis."
TCB sources said the programme of selling these goods is supposed to end on March 31, but it will be continued through Ramadan, and a couple of items will be added to the list.
In another press conference, Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder said the government currently has 17.51 lakh tonnes of food grains – 14.29 lakh tonnes of rice and 3.22 lakh tonnes of wheat – in stock.
"This stock was 15 lakh tonnes, 13 lakh tonnes, seven lakh tonne and 14 lakh tonnes in 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016 respectively," the minister said.
He also called upon mill owners across the country not to increase prices in the name of shortage during the coronavirus crisis.
"This is a national crisis. I think the mill owners will realise the matter," he said.
The food minister said the Directorate General of Food's trucks have been selling only flour for some days, but now dealers have been asked to sell rice too.