24th November 2021
Farid Hossain

There have been flurry of arguments and counter arguments in favour and against the recent 23% hike in diesel and kerosene prices. The state-run Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) has defended the Nov. 3 midnight move as necessary to lessen the burden of subsidies the government pays in this sector. The hike has also been blamed on the oil price rise in the international market. Another argument has been that diesel and kerosene are smuggled to India too since these petroleum products are cheaper in Bangladesh compared to the price in the neighboring country. In further defense of its sudden step, BPC reminded the public that it had been incurring a loss of Tk 20 crore a day because of international price hike.

 

The critics, however, have argued that the hike by Tk. 15 a liter (from Tk. 65 to 80) has been too big a leap made at one go. This could well have been done in phases making the increase bearable to the consumers keeping in mind the fact that a rise in petroleum prices also leads to a snowball effect in nearly all sectors of the economy. Critics also have strongly maintained that BPC did not lower the prices for about seven years when the oil was selling much cheaper in the global market. During those years it had earned a huge amount of profit so much that the government, under a newly-enacted law, took the money from it to finance development projects. Had that profit money not taken by the government, BPC could have avoided making this unusually high hike of the now-costly imports. According to them the state-run agency has the capacity to continue with subsidizing the petroleum prices for a few more months with going for the unsavory price hike at a time when the mass people are either paying more from their wallets to buy the daily essentials or buying less that they need for a living.

 

Yet another argument from the critics has been on the legal front. They refer to the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC), set up under a law enacted in 2003.

 

The law clearly states that electricity tariffs and prices of downstream petroleum products should be fixed by the energy regulator, BERC, through public hearings.  BERC, is a regulatory agency that regulates the gas, electricity and petroleum products in the country. Let’s recall here a public hearing BERC held in January this year when the price of LPG was re-fixed. Then why has BPC bypassed the public hearing as prescribed by the law of the land in the latest case of a highly controversial hike in diesel and kerosene? Is it a case of violation of law? Can this issue be taken to the court? Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), a non-profit consumer rights group, thinks so. It has vowed to take the issue to the court. Let’s wait and see what happens next.

 

But the next is already happening on the streets. Soon after the price hike, transports across Bangladesh halted demanding that they be allowed to raise fares. Without giving any notice the owners, joined by workers, went on a strike (even though they don’t call it so), on a day (Friday) when lakhs of students and job-seekers were supposed to sit in different examinations, crucial for their future. Many failed to make to the exam centers. The government did not waste time to yield to the transport owners’ undue pressure and agreed to raise the fares ranging from 26% to 35% transferring the entire load to passengers who are none but the commoners (who account for the country’s majority) but not those few who make decisions sitting in air-conditioned rooms (even during winter) and drive to offices in either government transports or latest-brand private cars.

 

When the commoner goes to the kitchen markets he/she knows how deep the pain is. When the commoner tries to take a bus he/she know how unforgiving life can be. Still, life goes on regardless of what happens to the common (ordinary) people. Still, we are made used to see and tolerate the rich and the powerful to become more powerful at the cost of the governed. But how long?  Won’t there be a backlash?


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