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Dhaka Tribune

Govt fails to find the ‘culprit’ behind skyrocketing onion prices

Update : 19 Dec 2017, 02:16 PM
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed had said that those behind the rice price hike in March would be identified. But investigators have so far failed to identify anyone from the syndicate. The government also failed to bring down the price when it jumped from Tk35 per kilogram to Tk55. The unusual increase was triggered by flash floods in Haor areas in March and April, and again after the ongoing Rohingya influx that started from late August. With the rice market still unstable, the skyrocketing price of onion is adding to the woes of customers, especially for the low and lower-middle income groups. Onion, priced at Tk55, started selling for Tk140. The government has blamed a syndicate of unscrupulous traders for the rise. The Home Ministry has engaged several teams of several intelligence agencies to find out the culprits at the Commerce Ministry’s request. Earlier, Tofail on September 18 ordered the deputy commissioners (DCs) to take measures to arrest the syndicate members, to keep rice prices affordable for the masses. He then said: “I will talk to all DCs over the phone. All the warehouses will be raided. Immediate action will be taken against millers if they are found to be stockpiling rice.” “They will face the music for spreading a rumour about the so-called rice crisis in the market. They hatched a plot to put the government in trouble,” he added. A day later, the minister summoned the president and general secretary of Bangladesh Auto Major and Husking Mill Owners Association, Abdur Rashid and Layek Ali respectively, to the ministry, and sat with them over the issue. But the initiative went in vain. In the meantime, alongside the higher rice prices, onions also started getting pricier. In the wake of the latest market volatility, the Commerce Ministry recently held an inter-ministerial meeting on the skyrocketing prices. Chaired by Additional Commerce Secretary Shamima Yasmin, the meeting was attended among others by the representatives of finance, agriculture and home ministries, Bangladesh Bank, Bangladesh Tariff Commission, authorities of different ports and Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP). Findings of the organisations placed at the meeting revealed that there was no supply crunch of onions in the local market as the stock was adequate. They then said that the stock of onions could meet the domestic demand for at least one month, expecting the arrival of a fresh harvest of onions in the meantime. One team of Commerce Ministry and DNCRP each inspected Karwan Bazar and Shyamnagar wholesale markets to gather information on the selling prices, stock and supply of onions. Afterwards, the teams submitted their reports to the ministry. According to the reports, the supply was normal, with sufficient stock. There was no crisis of onions as well. When contacted, not a single official of the teams agreed to comment. Meanwhile, Ariful Haq, a wholesaler at Shyamnagar, said the prices of Indian onion had gone up. “The local variety of onion was damaged due to recent rainfall in parts of the country. But the demand for onions has not dropped,” he said, blaming “supply shortfall” for the spiraling prices. Referring to the Commerce Ministry’s inspection team, Additional Commerce Secretary Shamima also claimed that there was no supply shortage of onions anywhere in the country. “The stock (of onions) is also satisfactory. But their rising price in local markets is suspicious,” she added. An official of the Home Ministry, requesting anonymity, said the government had taken measures to detain the people linked to the onion price hike issue. “Members of several intelligence agencies have already started working at field level in this regard, as ordered by the Home Ministry, following a request from the Commerce Ministry,” he further said. Another additional secretary to the Commerce Ministry, Munshi Shafiul Haque, said: “A large amount of onion has been damaged by rainfall in a number of areas of the country, pushing up the prices.” “Since this is the time for a new harvest, the onion prices will come down soon after the arrival of fresh produces in the market. So, there is nothing to worry about. The government is very serious about this issue,” he claimed.The article was first published on Bangla Tribune
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