Fuel price hike in Bangladesh triggers wave of protests


Bangladeshi garment workers block a road demanding their unpaid wages during a protest in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, April 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Al-emrun Garjon)

Unprecedented fuel price rises announced on August 5 — the highest in Bangladeshi history — have sparked national protests against the Awami League-led government by workers, students, and the poor. The price per liter of gasoline climbed by almost 52 percent, from 86 taka ($US 91 cents) to 130 takas ($US1.37), while diesel and kerosene prices surged by 42.5 percent.

The price increases, like those in many other nations, are a direct result of the US-NATO proxy conflict in Ukraine and the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated the deteriorating living conditions for workers and the poor.

According to media accounts, protests broke out in Dhaka, the nation's capital, and other major cities the day following the price increases. Motorcyclists and workers in the transportation industry held public rallies, chanting slogans against Prime Minister Sheik Hasina and asking that her administration decrease the costs.

Mohammad Nurul Islam, a vegetable-transporting truck driver, spoke to the BBC while waiting in line for gas. "When I go to the market, I am unable to purchase sufficient food for my family. If the price of fuel continues to rise at this rate, I will no longer be able to care for my parents or send my children to school. If I lose my job, I may be forced to beg on the street," he remarked.

One protestor, Homammed Shajahan, who rents vans for a living, stated to Al Jazeera, "No one is renting our vans today because the price has increased. It is tough for us. Observe that all the drivers are idling. "We cannot comprehend the government's actions," he remarked.

In addition to bus and other transportation prices, the gasoline price hikes have pushed up the cost of other necessities.

The New Indian Express stated on August 13 that 25 of 26 essential commodities were on the rise. The prices of rice, farm-raised chickens, onions, eggs, and fish have increased by double-digit percentages in the past month.

Mamunur Rashid, a Dhaka office janitor with a family of six, told the newspaper, "I used to eat fish three times per week, but now I only consume it once."

The Workers Party of Bangladesh, a member of the ruling 14-party alliance, cautioned that the government's move to raise petrol prices was suicidal out of fear of the growing opposition.

Student organizations and Stalinist parties have called for demonstrations over the price increases.

On August 6, the Communist Party of Bangladesh and the Left Democratic Alliance, an alliance of eight political groups (including several Stalinist cliques), demonstrated in Dhaka to demand the reversal of fuel price rises.

On August 7, police baton-charged student protests at a critical intersection in Dhaka's Shahbagh neighborhood, then filed charges against dozens of student leaders and activists. On August 11, four days later, students protested to demand their release.

The right-wing Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the country's main opposition party, demonstrated on August 11 in the Dhaka area of Naya Paltan in response to the price hikes. When in power, the BNP, like Hasina's Awami League-led administration, assaulted the social rights of the working class and the poor.

The gasoline price increased this month, followed by critical foods and natural gas costs. As a result of a 23 percent increase in the price of natural gas, Dhaka was paralyzed for many hours on June 4 as widespread demonstrations erupted. More than 60 percent of the country's energy demands are met by natural gas.

Thousands of garment employees from Snowtex Apparels, MBM Garment, Vision Garment, IDS Group, Kolka Garment, and Dmox went on a four-day strike in Mirpur, Dhaka, to seek price reductions or wage rises. Mamunur Rahman, a striking Snowtex Apparels employee, told the media that garment workers had no other choice. "Our salaries have not been raised in a very long time, even though the prices of essential goods are soaring," he remarked.

The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics said the annual inflation rate was 7.56 percent in June, the highest in nine years. The food inflation rate was even higher at 8.37%.

According to bdnews24.com, the rising cost of commodities on the global market is hitting Bangladesh, resulting in the biggest balance of payment deficit crisis in the nation's history and a rapid decline in its foreign exchange reserves.

The Bangladeshi foreign exchange reserves decreased to $39.48 billion on July 27 from $45.7 billion a year earlier. According to reports, this is adequate to cover imports for five months. Still, the administration believes that future increases in the price of oil and other essential commodities may accelerate the depletion of reserves.

To counteract this, the government has requested a loan of $4.5 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and $2 billion from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

According to the IMF, Bangladesh owed $62 billion in foreign debts in 2021. The Centre for Policy Dialogue has cautioned that the grace period for the service of various foreign loans will expire in the 2024–25 fiscal year. From May 2012 to May 2022, however, the Bangladeshi taka has lost 63 percent of its value against the US dollar.

Foreign and domestic political analysts are concerned that Bangladesh may experience the same severe political catastrophe as Sri Lanka.

The Rajapakse government was forced to resign, and President Gotabaya Rajapakse fled the nation on July 13 due to protests in April in Sri Lanka over excessive inflation, power outages, and massive fuel, food, and medical shortages.

In a recent essay for the Dhaka-based Daily Star, Nazeen Ahmed, a United Nations Development Program economist, warned that "Bangladesh may be on the verge of experiencing the same fate as Sri Lanka."

Previously, the Hasina administration and the World Bank predicted that Bangladesh would attain upper middle-income status by 2031, citing growth rates of 7 percent and 8.15 percent for 2015-16 and 2018-19, respectively. The global economic crisis and rising commodity prices have debunked this idea.

The tidal wave of mass demonstrations that erupted in Bangladesh is part of a global class fight against increasing inflation and job and salary losses. The response of the Hasina government to this crisis has been to increase the price of fuel and other essentials, as well as to mobilize the police and unleash state repression, moves that will escalate widespread discontent.

Publish : 2022-08-15 10:47:00

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