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Jack Of All Trades

Why is it delayed to act against onion price hike?

Published : Wednesday, 20 November, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 214

Nizam Ahmed

Nizam Ahmed

The incumbent authorities perhaps have grown old and weaker in taking decisions on important issues in the first year of its third consecutive and the fourth term in office as it has taken long two months to take a crash programme to rein in skyrocketing onion price, which continues to hit a fresh record almost every day over the past weeks.
The authorities have utterly failed to control the unabated price hike of onion which hit all time record early this week amid sharp criticism by the consumers and the public who have been blaming  the authorities for failing to bring down onion prices busting illegal hoarding and the racket of unscrupulous traders.

However, in a bid to douse the public anger the government on Saturday assured that plane load of onion will be flown in from Egypt this week. The item will also be airborne from China and Turkey. Ministers also tried to assure that onion will be imported from different other countries to bring down the price of the important kitchen commodity.
Expressing scepticism on the assurance of the ministers and the government some consumers said to them it sounded like comforting babies crying for candies. It is generally believed that despite ample proof and evidences of illegal hoarding, the authorities did not act against the unscrupulous traders. Also the authorities did not take any pragmatic step to procure the item from abroad, before the situation turned acute.

As the authorities moved ahead with a cash programmes to procure onion from abroad at any means a down trend in the prices was visible in the city markets on Monday.  It is expected that the down trend will continue as media reports said that onion will be airborne and shipped into the country through sea routes. The price of onion started rising in September last when India first enhanced the export price for the item and subsequently imposed ban on its export in the same month to keep domestic market stable.
Onion prices hit a fresh record on Saturday when vendors sold it between Tk 250 and Tk 260 per kg in the city markets. However, onion imported from different countries sold on the day between Tk 170 to Tk 200 per kg. Onion prices often shot up in the past too following crop failure or other reasons, but consumers never experienced such volatility in the past. The highest price of onion during such a crisis was Tk 140 per kg in 2017.

The photographs published in the country's newspapers recently on consumers struggling to buy onion at fair price of Tk 45 per kg from government outlets, depicted the sufferings and agonies endured by the people. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the relevant departments of the government including the Commerce Ministry utterly failed to stand beside the during ongoing onion crisis.

On the same day media reported that nearly 20 tonnes of rotten onion was dumped at different spots including a tributary canal to the Karnaphuli River in Chittagong city. The dumping raised question how it occurred when traders blamed short supply for hiking onion price.  However, it is plain truth that the onion was rotten for storing in warehouse houses for longer times hoping windfall profit when price go further up.
The consumers now want to know why the authorities delayed in taking the crash programme earlier to procure onion from abroad, when the prices went beyond purchasing capacity of the country's majority people, who allege that the authorities not only failed to bring down prices amid increased imports from different counties by private sector, but also failed to monitor the distribution and hoarding. The relevant departments of the government have no appropriate data on the country's demand, cultivation and imports of onion.

According to traders, the country produces some 2.3 million tonnes of onion against the demand of 2.4 million tonnes. According to importers some 1.1 million tonnes of onion was also imported over the last one year. If the figures are correct than a huge volume of onion were either smuggled out or hoarded.  But perishable items like onion are seldom stocked for long time. But very few illegal stocks have been busted by the authorities, which are expecting that the prices will come down gradually when local harvests start in December.

Following onion volatility, people believe that the so called business friendly incumbent government is reluctant to bring the illegal traders to book as most of the cabinet members and the leaders of the ruling party are involved in business. Meanwhile the traders are continuing to  hike prices of other food items including rice unabated over the last few days amid indifferent attitude of the relevant ministries and the authorities, who express their complacency over the ongoing economic growth and infrastructural development.

The illogical hike in commodity prices has started annoying general people and making them to think for a change, which they are expecting to be possible through the next general elections. If the authorities do not take step immediately, the syndicates of unscrupulous traders will bring damaging challenges for the government which has already lost some of its popularity due to involvement of ruling part cadres in crimes and corruptions. Inability to restore order in the ailing banking sector also eroded efficiency and popularity of the government.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Sunday said onion-loaded cargo planes were expected to reach the country in next one or two days to contain its abnormal price hike while the government planned as well to review what actually caused the situation.
"I expect the cargo planes carrying onions to reach the country by tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," she said while opening the 3rd national council of Awami Swechchhasebak League at Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka.

The premier said a situation was created with onion in the country "but I don't know why its price is jumping abnormally". She, however, said the price of this essential cooking ingredient spiralled in many other countries but its abnormal price hike in Bangladesh required to be examined. "So, we've to see whether anybody is involved in any plot (regarding the opinion)," the premier said.

Most people of the country, who have deep cofidence in her say,  she must act to see whether there is any conspiracy to destabilise the market in order to fish in the troubled water. Subsequently Commerce Secretary Md Jafar Uddin Monday said legal steps have been taken against 2,500 people for manipulating onion market.

Without elaborating the legal steps against the businessmen, he also assured that the onion market will soon become stable thanks to effective measures taken by the government. Consumers think the authorities should have moved earlier to tackle the issue of price spiral, before the situation turned acute. They hope that the authorities have learned a lesson from the onion price hike to tackle such situation beforehand in the coming days to protect the consumers and save the face of the government.
The author is business editor,
The Daily Observer

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