The government's ongoing efforts to control the prices of rice, pulses, flour and other essentials, mostly food items, have been visible in recent weeks, but failed to inspire confidence. It seems that the market system is completely out of control and any kind of urging or warning is not enough to bring those pulling the strings under control.

The constant rise in rice prices, even in the middle of the Boro season, is a cause for concern. Contrary to popular belief, that the rise in prices is due to a crisis in the international market or a crisis in the domestic market due to unscrupulous traders and stockists, recent government campaigns have shown that lack of control has led to an increase in hoarding. According to an intelligence report, the hoarders range from small to large business groups, and include brick kiln owners and even primary school teachers. They are all taking advantage of the situation. As a result, despite adequate supply, the price of rice has gone up by Tk 8-10 per kg in just the last two weeks. According to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), the prices of coarse and thin rice have gone up by 5.4 percent and 3.2 percent respectively, in just the last week.

Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder has named some of the major industrial groups of the country - including Square, Pran, City, Akij, Bashundhara and ACI - which are mainly responsible for the stockpiling and price rise. Needless to say, each of these groups have denied the allegations. Disclosing the findings of the intelligence report, the food minister said these companies buy rice from different districts at Tk 60-65 per kg, and selling it on at Tk 70-75 per kg. He added that the government was considering restricting the sale of packaged rice, and increasing rice imports if necessary - to punish the 'syndicate' while keeping the market stable.

Would that work? Will the price go down as a result? Honestly, at the moment, ordinary citizens don't like to hear about these government plans anymore, whatever it is. What they look forward to is a speedy resolution of the issue.

There is no doubt that controlling fuel and food prices will be the biggest challenge for the economy, as we come up to a new fiscal (2022-23), for which the budget will be placed in parliament next week. Every year the budget pays special attention to the development of the agricultural sector and this year will be no exception. At the same time, however, dependence on major food grain imports (albeit in the current context, which is fair) could create a long-term crisis in the midst of continued volatility in international markets.

That is why the forthcoming budget should focus on increasing the benefits of domestic food production so that the volatility in international prices does not easily upset the spending bill. Ideally, before we embark on the new financial year from July 1, the government would immediately stamp out the hoarding mentality and punish those involved.

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