A syndicate of dishonest traders and importers has been taking advantage of the high demand for salt during Eid-ul-Azha by artificially raising the price.
This has outraged the tanning industry, which needs salt to preserve the thousands of rawhides which will be collected from sacrificial animals during the festival.
The crisis has been exacerbated by the delay to the consignments of salt which were supposed to arrive from India by the end of August, but which sources said will not now enter Bangladesh until after Eid.
“A syndicate of importers and traders deliberately hiked the prices,” Shakhawat Ullah, the general secretary of Tannery Owners' Association (TOA), said. “The same syndicate has been doing the malpractice for years.”
According to Shakhawat, without enough salt around 40% of the rawhide could rot away due to the excessive heat seen in the last few days before Eid-ul-Azha.
“Last year, about 30% of the rawhide was damaged owing to hot and humid weather. The artificial crisis of salt will deepen the losses, if not controlled right away. There is no alternative for preserving the rawhide of sacrificial animals,” he said.
Market insiders said a section of unscrupulous importers are colluding with businessmen to not allow salt shipments to enter the maritime ports at Chittagong and Cox's Bazar. They have also barred the unloading of salt consignments from vessels which have already berthed at the ports.
Following their plan, the salt price began to soar from early August, eventually creating an artificial crisis in the local market ahead of Eid, when demand is highest.
At the wholesale level, a 75kg sack of salt was selling for up to Tk1,300 on Friday, almost double the Tk700 price of a year ago.
Traders in Chittagong said they began feeling the heat of the price hike in May, when news began spreading of salt shipments being withheld.
“A powerful traders' syndicate is behind the artificial crisis in the market,” said Abdul Hannan, a salt trader at Karwan Bazar kitchen market. “They did it all with an aim to make higher profits by targeting the huge demand of salt to preserve rawhide.”
The current situation contrasts to that of last year, when the government anticipated the crisis that always emerges prior to the peak Eid season by allowing the import of five tonnes of unrefined salt to satisfy demand and keep prices low.
Many salt importers, traders and tanners are now urging the government to take similarly strict and immediate measures to remedy the situation.
TOA general secretary Shakhawat said the salt price hike was inflicting further pain on a tanning industry that has struggled with the expense of the mandatory relocation of industrial units from the capital's Hazaribagh area to Savar.