As the economic effects of the lockdown intensifies, lower to middle income people of Khulna keep finding it harder and harder to meet their grocery bills. In such a dire time, subsidised daily necessities courtesy of the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) should be a saving grace. But its shortage in its stocks compared to the people's needs.
City dwellers allege that in most places, the products sold through TCB trucks are running out by noon. This is especially disheartening as the month of Ramadan is knocking at the door -- a time when prices of everyday goods are known to increase drastically.
Given the circumstances, residents from across the city urged the authorities concerned to increase their supply in accordance with the people's needs.
According to TCB sources, the sale of goods has increased from April 1 with the lockdown and the upcoming Ramadan in mind. Five products are being sold by 10 trucks in Shibbari Mor, Circuit House Mor, Daulatpur Mohsin Mor, Satrastar Mor, Sundarbans College Mor, Nirala Tabligh Mosque Mor, People's Jute Mills Mor, Divisional Commissioner's Office Premises, Natun Bazar, and Khalishpur Bazar area in the city.
However, the trucks are going to other points as well, they said.
According to TCB guidelines, two litres of oil and two kilograms each of sugar, pulses, gram flour (beson), and onion has for been set as a cap for each customer, to ensure more get a share of the goods at a fair price. However, the goods come in a package, meaning one cannot buy just one kind of product.
Asked, sales staffers said they maintain stocks of one tonne of onion and around 500 kilograms of the other goods.
Visiting different areas of Khulna, including Shibbari, Satrasta, Natun Bazar last Tuesday, this correspondent saw hundreds of customers waiting at the designated areas and then flocking around the loaded trucks to get these food items, under the heat of the April sun.
In some places, large crowds gather way before the trucks arrive in the morning. In this hustle and bustle, social distancing requirements get flouted, denting the very purpose of the lockdown.
However, as the trucks arrive, TCB staffers try their best to bring order, often creating social distancing markers using bicycle tires. They also make sure products are sold in accordance with the hygienic guidelines.
But due to the aforementioned shortage of stocks, many people were seen going back from the lines empty-handed.
Sakil Mahamud, aged around fifty, came to buy from the trucks at Shibbari Mor. He complained of another issue, telling The Daily Star that the prices are higher this time than the last few years.
"In addition, they do not have adequate stocks this time around," he said, "If stocks aren't increased and prices aren't decreased, lower-income people will continue to suffer."
Easy-bike driver Tohidul Islam had come to Natun Bazar to buy TCB's subsidised offerings. Just last week, he had failed to get his groceries for two consecutive days. But he'd still rather buy from here, simply because of the relatively lower pricing.
But he lamented the shortage of stocks and number of trucks. "How it is possible for 10 trucks to provide for 1.7 million people?" asked Tohidul.
Atia Begum, standing next in line to him, said, "We have to stand in line for an hour or so. But once we reach the end, we end up getting fewer goods at higher prices."
"What makes it even harder is that the goods come in a package. If you don't buy onion, it doesn't give oil. But I don't need big onions like the ones sold here, I need cooking oil," she said with frustration.
Customers also alleged that the trucks are not going to places where they are needed most. As an example, they cited how only one truck goes to Khalishpur, one of the lowest-income areas, whereas Shibbari Mor, a more affluent area, also gets one truck. They said this misallocation does not help the people of the city.
According to TCB sources, lentils are being sold at Tk 55 per kg, sugar at Tk 55, gram flour at Tk 55, onion (Turkey) at Tk 20 per kg, and soybean oil at Tk 100 per litre.
In comparison, at a kitchen market in the city's Moylapota area, sugar was being sold at Tk 70 per kg, lentils at Tk 80 to 85 per kg, local lentils at Tk 120, gram flout at Tk 80, local onions at Tk 40, and soybean oil at Tk 140 per litre.
Contacted, Anisur Rahman, head of TCB's Khulna regional office, told The Daily Star that they were conducting operations according to instructions from Dhaka's TCB headquarters."I have informed the higher ups of the people's demands. Maybe they are considering increasing the supply of goods," he said.