With prices of everyday items still maintaining an upward trend, the ordinary folks' frustrations are often spilling out in public, often in the markets when they are confronted with some outlandish hike in the price of some item they are used to having - the most obvious and recent example being eggs.

As is always the case with inflation, it is the people who are on fixed incomes i.e. the majority of people who are in jobs earning salaries, who almost inevitably suffer the most. This is because inflation at any time in any place always acts as a drag on the real value of your income, i.e. it diminishes the real value of your wages aka real wages.

Though prices of almost all commodities have increased in the recent blow of price hikes, salaries i.e. remained in their previous form. As a result, people on fixed incomes, as well as lower middle-class groups, are facing distressing times these days, forced to curtail consumption in order to maintain household expenses.

Some of them are also engaging more heavily in arguments with the shopkeepers over some pricing policy or the other, asking for clear reasons or analysis, and occasionally even exposing the lack thereof.

Even these small victories however, do not lead to any reversal of the pricing policy, nor do they accrue any lasting benefit - in the final analysis, the seller always wins.

Given the volatility prevailing in the market, trying to predict where prices will go or chart their future course is a hazardous exercise.

Visiting Karwan Bazar, Malibag, Rampura, Khilgaon, and Shanti Nagar Bazar, our correspondent observed that price of every single item on his shopping list - including rice, wheat, fish, vegetables, egg, chicken, milk-powder, soap, and detergent - have gone up.

In some rare cases, the price of an item may just have decreased over the last few days after having gone up over a sustained period prior to that - with the overall effect that it is still more expensive than it was, say six months ago.

The Directorate of National Consumers Rights Protection (DNCRP), has carried out drives wherever it has received information on price manipulation, said market insiders, with the agency's chief often at the head of such operations.

Rice: The Ultimate Barometer

Using the volatility often talked about in energy markets as an excuse, the price of coarse rice has increased by Tk150-200 per 50kg sack in the wholesale market, while this rice is retailing Tk 5-6 per kg higher than it was just 5 days ago.

The chinigura pulau rice, which is a finer variety produced here, was sold at Tk 5400 (50 kg sack) on August 14. Today if you go to the market you will see how the asking price has jumped to Tk5850 in the wholesale market recently - an 8.3 percent jump.

Fine quality rice including minicate and Nazirshail are selling at Tk 80 to Tk85 per kg while the superior quality of this rice was selling at Tk90 to 95 in the super shops.

Rois Uddin, the owner of a gusher shop on the Eskaton Dilu Road, told UNB that he bought coarse rice (BR-28) for an extra Tk200 on top of the Tk2700 per 50 kg sack.

In the absence of the authorities' effective price monitoring, a group of dishonest traders raised the price, referring to fuel prices, said Ekabbar Hossain, who had gone to buy a 50 kg sack of rice at the Khilgaon Katcha Bazar, a popular kitchen market, on Wednesday.

As Ekabbar, a retired school teacher, would find out - unless he was willing to settle for one of the coarser varieties - he had badly under-budgeted, and was forced to settle for a 25 kg sack that evening instead.

"Rice price may increase by Tk 5 per 50kg sack as the government fixed the transport fare after oil price hiked, but how can it increase by Tk5-6 per kg," he exclaimed to the seller while paying, who was only too ready with his well-practised 'Ukraine War-record hikes in energy-price level rise' line of reasoning by now.

Ekabbar noted fish prices had increased by Tk 10-60 per kg, all arguing the same line of reasoning as the rice seller.

Vegetables like eggplant, long beans, brinjal were selling at Tk60-80 per kg, which was Tk55 -60 per kg before the oil price hiked.

Prices of tomato, carrot, potato, onion, ginger and garlic had jumped by Tk 5-30 per kg. Even vegetable sellers were blaming the war and record energy prices.

"But actually it is the result of syndication by a group of dishonest businessmen, thriving on lax price monitoring by the government," he said.

He urged the government to control the runaway price hike, telling UNB that otherwise, people like him (retired and marginal group) would soon fail to bear the monthly household expenditures.

Continuing to monitor the prices as an ordinary buyer, the UNB correspondent recorded a substantial hike between Tk 30-50 per kg in the prices of layer, Pakistani, Sonali and indigenous chicken varieties, compared to their price before the Bangladesh government hiked fuel prices.

The well-publicised jump in the price of farm eggs, that reached a scarcely believable Tk 150 per dozen, fell back to Tk 130 after effective intervention on the ground by DNCRP.

Away from the markets, A.H.M. Shafiquzzaman, the Director General of DNCRP, told UNB that they are doing their best to make their presence felt on the floor of the markets, working in coordination with law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

"There can be no scope for any sustained, unjust hike in the prices of everyday items including food, that uses the hike in fuel prices as an excuse or cover," Shafiquzzaman said.

Their drives against such irrational and uncalled for price hikes in the capital's kitchen markets would be reinforced and stepped up, said the DG of DNCRP.

Anisul Islam, UNB staff writer.

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