Mohammad Zakir Hossain used to take classes at a private college in Dhaka. He Monday queued up for hours before a truck laden with government subsidised essentials at Khamarbari.
"The classes are off and salaries are too. Now we are trying to survive somehow," the college teacher was sweating profusely.
Like Hossain, many middle-class people – who never thought their situation would be so miserable – are joining the growing queues of low and lower-middle income people at the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) sales points across the country.
The state-owned TCB said it has already increased the number of sales points and daily supplies, and the operations cannot be expanded further overnight owing to a limited capacity.
On July 5, the corporation launched the open market sales at 450 points across the country. At the TCB points, soybean oil costs Tk100 per litre while lentils and sugar Tk55 per kg.
"The daily supplies run out just within hours, but the lines do not get shorter. Once we had to wait for customers all day as people now wait for us in the morning to arrive at the point with the essentials," said Mohammad Swapan, a TCB dealer in Dhaka's Rampura area.
There are 80 sales points in the capital, and 112 in Dhaka division face almost the same customer rush. Hundreds of people throng each outlet, and all the daily supplies get sold instantly. Many customers have to return empty-handed.
Dealers said the TCB decides at which point a dealer will sell the product on a certain day. The sales are supposed to begin at 10 am. As the dealers need to make the payments through banks, collect the products and then arrive at the points, the sales often start late.
But people started to line up at some outlets even before 9 am.
Mohammad Yusuf Harun Chowdhury, who had been waiting for two hours at Khilgaon Shahjahanpur TCB outlet, said he used to work at the Eastern Housing.
"I left that and started a business. But the pandemic jeopardised it. Later my wife fell sick, and the financial ordeals started mounting. So, I have come here to buy the essentials at low prices," he said.
A small trader, Mohammad Roni, was at the end of the queue. After waiting for three and a half hours, he left the place for home.
"I cannot wait anymore. I am not sure whether I would get anything as there are already too many people here," he said before leaving.
Rubel, a salesman at TCB Shahjahanpur outlet, said, "The pressure is huge. We arrived here late today as we got the products late."
"There have been a lot of customers since the lockdown, and we cannot supply everyone," he said. "Every day many people have to return home empty-handed, but we cannot do anything about it."
Each sales point in Dhaka gets 400 kg lentils, 1,000 kg oil and 700 kg sugar per day. Each person can buy the highest two kg or two-litre of the items a day. This means a sales centre can provide 200 people with lentils, 500 people with edible oil and 350 people with sugar.
TCB Spokesperson Mohammad Humayun Kabir said, "We are now supplying 10-12% of the market demand for each product which previously was 1-2%. We cannot increase the sales overnight even if we want to."
According to a survey, 2.45 crore people have slipped into poverty due to the pandemic fallout.
Ghulam Rahman, president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh, said, "Movement curbs meant for curbing the infection rate also cut off the income of many people. Therefore, the government should increase the allocation so that people do not have to go with an empty stomach."