The government is going to launch a special open market sale (OMS) of coarse rice at Tk 10 a kg in all city corporation areas to ensure food for the urban poor amid the countrywide shutdown.
The shutdown is being enforced as part of the efforts to slow down the spread of novel coronavirus, which has so far claimed five lives in the country.
The food ministry yesterday got the government approval in this regard, said the ministry officials.
"We are trying to start selling rice from Saturday or Sunday," Nazmanara Khanum, secretary of the ministry, told The Daily Star.
Before this, the ministry will have to formulate a special guideline, she said, adding that she would soon hold meetings with the food minister, relevant ministry officials, and other stakeholders for the guideline.
The secretary added that the special OMS programme might continue until the upcoming Boro season.
Food ministry officials said the government has different programmes to ensure food for the country's poor living in rural areas. But it does not have any such programme for the poor and the disadvantaged living in urban areas.
The government move -- the special OMS programme -- for the urban poor came five days after it went for a 10-day shutdown.
Thousands of marginalised people are in a tight spot amid the shutdown as they cannot go outside and earn their livelihoods.
Like many others, the urban poor have also found themselves in a precarious situation and are passing their days in hardship.
They largely cannot meet their basic needs, including food, as their income opportunities have dropped significantly.
As part of the efforts to alleviate the economic pains of low-income groups, including labourers, rickshaw pullers and street vendors, the government has planned to sell the rice through the special OMS programme.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics' poverty data of 2016, 26.6 percent of service workers, 22.8 percent of production-and transport-related workers, and 17.7 percent of sales workers are dealing with poverty.
A World Bank report says only 17.84 percent of the country's poor people living in towns and cities receive support from social safety schemes, whereas 35.77 percent of the poor people in rural areas get the benefits.
The report said urban poverty rate declined to 19.3 percent in 2016 from 21.3 percent in 2010.
Under the existing OMS programme, the government sells coarse rice at Tk 30 a kg and flour at Tk 18 a kg in trucks.
Under the special OMS initiative, the government will sell only coarse rice. For this, the government is likely to allocate about 55,000 tonnes of the coarse rice in two months for the urban poor, said food ministry officials.
They said the target group would be selected with the help from the local public representatives of the city corporations.
At present, the government has a stock of about 16.95 lakh tonnes of food in its storage facilities. Of the quantity, rice accounts for about 13.87 lakh tonnes, according to the ministry sources.
The storage is at a satisfactory level, and there is enough stock of food grains, says the ministry.