The government is set to launch a special OMS program for low-income people on Sunday, but the authorities don’t have a complete list of those who are in need of it
The government is set to start selling coarse rice (Boro) at Tk10 per kg from Sunday, aiming to help people in the low-income group who have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The rice will be sold, under the special open market sale (OMS) program in the cities and district towns across Bangladesh, for the people who depend on their daily income to survive, and have lost the income stream due to the ongoing soft shutdown across the country to curb the spread of the pandemic.
The most affected people include day-labourers, rickshaw and van pullers, transport workers, restaurant workers, hawkers, transgender individuals, and tea-stall owners. Due to the shutdown, a large number of these people have lost their jobs and are now in destitution.
The special OMS program is designed to ease their burden to some extent, officials say.
However, none of the government authorities has in hand a complete list of low-income people, particularly those in the city areas, so as to ensure that the initiative can reach those who badly need help. This lack of preparation also leaves room for corruption.
The Ministry of Food has already finalized a strategy for implementing the special OMS program.
According to the plan, the rice will be sold after lists of people in need are made with the help of the local representatives, such as councillors.
"We have finalized the guideline for selling coarse rice at Tk10 per kg under the special OMS program, which is scheduled to begin on Sunday," Food Secretary Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum told Dhaka Tribune on Thursday.
"We don't have any accurate list in this regard, due to the situation right now, but we have asked the officials and others concerned to strictly follow the guidelines.”
According to the 13-point guideline, an individual from a family will be able to buy a maximum of 5kg rice for a week upon showing his or her National Identity Card (NID).
The vendors will enlist the details of the buyer following a master roll to avoid repetition.
Those who get benefits from the government under its Food Friendly Program will not be eligible for this scheme.
The government initiated a countrywide shutdown of all activities, except essential services, from March 26 till April 4 in order to enforce social distancing, a strategy crucial for slowing the spread of Covid-19, caused by a new strain of coronavirus, which is extremely contagious.
The shutdown was later extended till April 11.
As of Friday, a total of 61 people in Bangladesh have been detected with the Covid-19 infection, six of whom died, according to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR).
Warning against irregularities
As there are instances of corruption during the preparation of lists of low-income people, Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder has warned that strict action would be taken against those responsible if there are any irregularities in making the lists.
In the past, there have been media reports of local influential and well-off people enlisting their family members for the government’s Food Friendly Program, which is aimed at providing rice at Tk10 per kg to poor people in the rural areas. The program supports five million poverty-stricken people across the country.
On Wednesday, the food minister issued a notice directing the deputy commissioners of all the districts to take legal action against those who are wrongfully included in the lists of destitute people through falsehood and forgery.
Tahmidul Islam, additional secretary at the ministry, said: "Officials concerned have been alerted to prevent corruption, following the directive of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina."
A sale centre will be allowed to sell two tons of rice in district towns, and three tons of rice in the city corporation areas every day. The existing sale centres will also sell rice under the special OMS program, as per the government guideline.
In locations where there is no sale centre, the local OMS committees will fix the sales point considering the zones where low-income people live, such as slums.
A representative from the district administration or the local government institution, such as a councillor of the city corporation or municipality, will supervise the sales activities, according to the guidelines.
Dealers will submit a sales report to the OMS committees every day with the signature of the supervisors.
The sales will be conducted following the safety guidelines of World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Requesting anonymity, a top district-level official of the Directorate General of Food said: "The [government] guidelines will help us to ensure discipline, but that is not enough to prevent corruption. Coordination gap will also hamper the selling process.”