End of discrimination in rationing system is necessaryby Ikteder Ahmed
THE British introduced the rationing system in the subcontinent during the Second World War through the establishment of the civil supply department, to protect urban people from any difficulty for their livelihood arising out of short supply of consumer goods. Ration, which means a fixed quantity or portion of food allotted to a person and has been in wide use in public utterance for more than 50 years, has since got entry as a Bangla word. When the rationing system was first introduced in the subcontinent, urban people were supposed to get supply of rice, wheat, edible oil, sugar, etc in concessional rates. However, it was never made available for all; only civil and military officers and employers were brought under the system. The influential and wealthy residing in the towns could be fortunate owners of ration cards.
The system continued after the war ended in 1945, and also after India and Pakistan emerged upon the partition of the subcontinent. However, with the advent of market economy in the last stage of the 20th century, the coverage of the rationing system in India and Pakistan was made limited but is still in force for the military and, in some particular cases, non-military government servants and employees.
In 1971, after the creation of Bangladesh through division of Pakistan, the rationing system continued in urban area as before. In the rationing system for the supply of consumer goods to the consumers in concessional rates, the state has to give huge subsidy which is not subscribed by many countries of the present world as follower of market economy. In the market economy price of commodity depends on supply and demand of commodity. If the demand is inadequate in comparison to supply then there would be lower trend in the price. On the contrary, if the demand is more than supply then there would be upward trend in the price of the commodity. This age-old theory of economics is regarded as one of the basic elements of market economy.
In any country of the world, the popularity of the government depends on stability of the price of essential commodities. As market economy does not subscribe to rationing system, so at present if there is any setback in food production of any country, due to natural calamity, then most of the countries for rapid growth of foreign trade in order to face deficit take step to meet the shortage through import. In this respect, the countries whose foreign currency reserve is insufficient are to face difficulty.
Whatever may be the resourcefulness of the country, the purchasing power of the people is always dependant on the rate of inflation. Thus, if the rate of inflation reaches above mid level of one digit after exceeding the tolerable limit, i.e. if it exceeds 4.5, or touches two digits that is goes above 9 then it is seen as a sharp decline in the support of the government elected to vast majority. For this reason in any country of the world the government elected by the people wants inflation to never become cause of public dissatisfaction.
In post-independent Bangladesh different governments in order to meet deficit of revenue and development budget have had to take assistance from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and different development partner and donor agency. The assistance of the World Bank is always subject to tough conditions for the poor states and in this respect Bangladesh has also never been an exception. For the sole influence of the countries of capitalised block, the assistance and prescription of the World Bank could not play effective role for the poor countries to become self-reliant. Almost all the governments of our country have had to accept conditional loan of the World Bank to overcome temporary crisis in spite of being considered harmful for the country. The abolition of the rationing system was part of the World Bank’s conditions for loan. At some stage in post-independent, the rationing system was abolished to get loan from the World Bank.
Currently, other than members of the disciplined forces, such as the army, navy, air force, border guards, coastguards, police, ansars, village defence party, etc, no one has access to the rationing system. Previously, officers of the police and ansars were not included in the rationing scheme; they were brought under the scheme during the tenure of the previous elected government of the four-party alliance.
Members of the armed forces are under the defence ministry while members of the police and ansars are under the home affairs ministry. Although officers of police and ansar forces are members of disciplined forces they are considered as civil servants. When officers of police and ansar forces were brought under the rationing system, a demand was raised from amongst officers and employees of the home ministry as to why they would not be given rationing benefit as well? At present the benefit of ration available to the members of the disciplined forces is not based on any well-proportionate principle. In this respect there is discontent amongst members of different disciplined forces.
The officers and employees of civil departments of the government who are deprived of ration benefit are of the view that the markets wherefrom they purchase fish, meat, chicken, egg, etc. consumer goods the members of disciplined force also purchase such consumer goods from the same markets. Then why in respect of latter some consumer goods such as rice, pulse, wheat, edible oil, sugar, etc. would be given in concessional or nominal price? If World Bank loan or assistance is inevitable for the government in that case as per their prescription there ought to have been full abolition of the rationing system. It is true that in developed and developing countries of the world a discriminatory rationing system like ours is not in force. Bangladesh is currently a least developed country and soon to become a developing country. Developed and developing countries in the matter of providing benefits at all stages of civil and military officers and employees look at them from the same view-point and evaluate them equally in accordance with the level.
The conscious people of the country have the question: if we are in the light of the spirit of the supreme law of the country, i.e. the constitution, are firm to the principles of real democracy, economy and social justice then is there any scope to continue the present discriminatory rationing system? And if there is no such scope then by ignoring prescription of the World Bank, if rationing system could be continued for certain special quarters and in some cases its scope could be widened then where is the harm to bring the urban people and civil officers and employees within the rationing scheme by extending the scope? Even after that there remains a tale: if continuation of rationing system is considered harmful for the economy of the country then its abolition should be effective in respect of all which in turn would ensure equality and justice for all.
Ikteder Ahmed is a former judge and former registrar, Supreme Court. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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