Bangladesh Road Transport Authority raised bus fares by as much as 22 percent on Saturday, and troubled citizens fear this is just the beginning of the fast-worsening cost-of-living crunch after a record hike in fuel oil prices pile pressure on households.
Fuel price surge by as much as 51.68 percent will ultimately lead to higher cost of living as goods production and transport costs will shoot up now when people are grappling with the pain of rocketing inflation.
Johir Uddin, a resident of South Pirerbagh in Dhaka’s Mirpur who runs a small store, took up another job at an insurance company to pay for his family of four after the cost of living started to increase due to the Russia-Ukraine war.
“Even after working two jobs, I’m struggling to put food on the table after paying the children’s education fees. If the expenses rise further, I don’t think I’ll be able to stay in Dhaka anymore,” he said, adding that there was no work back in his hometown either.
Tanzina Khushbu was waiting in Khilgaon for a bus to Postogola for a long time as public transport was scarce on the streets after the owners scaled down services to avoid buying fuel at the new rates before new fares are announced.
“It was not too long ago when there was a ruckus over public transport fares. Increasing fuel prices naturally sends the bus fares up. People who travel on local buses like us are tired of spending on higher fares. We could simply hire an autorickshaw if we were able to spend more.”
A master’s student at Dhaka University, Saiful Kabir said fares of ridesharing services will also go up.
“Those who have their own cars will struggle as well. How are we supposed to live if the prices of everything keep rising?”
Nazmul Ahsan Parvez, an employee at a chemical supplier company, said: “We are under extreme pressure due to the rising prices of all food products. The fuel price hike will cause the prices of all products to go up again.”
“Why are the fuel prices being increased, and in whose interest? I will suffer nutritional issues this time if I can’t eat as much as I need,” he said.
Nazmul and Helal Uddin, a resident of Mirpur’s Rupnagar, fear Bangladesh’s current situation resembles what Sri Lanka had faced months before going bust. “The Sri Lankan government went bankrupt, will the same happen to the people of our country?” Nazmul wondered.
“The government of our country will get richer by exploiting the people, and the lower-income people will go bankrupt,” fumed Helal.
Aminul Islam, a fourth-year undergraduate student at Tejgaon College, works part-time at a superstore. “Fuel prices made a huge and abrupt leap. This might not seem to be a big deal to many right now. But it will be really tough for us, motorcyclists, to buy fuel at this price.
“Actually we accept everything too easily, so we are subjected to much wrong.”
INFLATION TO RISE
The easing of inflationary pressures on global food and fuel prices led the country’s inflation to decline slightly from the nine-year high in June, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics said.
Now the hike in prices of fuel oil, especially diesel, will trigger an increase in inflation again, believes Md Jashim Uddin, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
He urged the government to reconsider its decision to raise fuel prices. “Such a hike in the prices of the most important commodity amid growing inflation will further inflate prices.”
He said businesses support price rises in the domestic market when global prices rise.
“But when oil prices are decreasing in the international market, we don’t support such a hike here.”
Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation mostly incur losses and the government subsidises fuel prices. But the state-owned corporation made a profit of Tk 180 billion in the past three years as fuel prices decreased in the international market due to falling consumption during the pandemic, he said.
GOVT DEFENDS PRICE HIKE
The government in a statement defended the decision to raise fuel oil prices, citing the global rise due to the Russia-Ukraine war amid bolstered economic activities during the recovery from the pandemic.
In the notice, the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources said BPC had suffered losses of more than Tk 1 billion daily in May and June. In July, the daily loss fell to Tk 740 million as import costs remained high.
It claimed BPC’s current financial ability would allow it to import oil in only August if the previous rates of domestic fuel prices persisted.
It also said higher fuel oil prices in India triggered fears of the products being smuggled to the neighbouring country.
[Writing in English by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder and Syed Mahmud Onindo; editing by Biswadip Das]