Sunday, December 15, 2019 | ePaper

Onion crisis

Govt urged to impose stock limit, action against hoarders

Paperless deals to escape action against market manipulation

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A little boy appealing to a salesman with money to get onion from a makeshift truck sale point run by state-run Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) set up at Motijheel C/A in Dhaka on Sunday.

Kazi Zahidul Hasan :
Onion market across the country remains highly volatile and price of the key cooking ingredient keeps surging by hours, as cartelization and manipulation are believed to be thriving despite the government efforts to tame it.
Retail onion prices have already crossed over Tk 250 per kg in the capital. Similar price spike also seen in other cities as well taking advantage of an active market manipulation by 'handful' importers and wholesale traders.
Market insiders said big importers have already adopted 'paperless' trade to manipulate onion market and escape from the government's agencies involved in market monitoring.
Against this backdrop, agro-economists and consumer rights groups urged the government to set stock holding limits on retailers and wholesalers to make onion available for distribution in the market.
"Raids in markets will not help much in arresting onion prices, unless the government takes effective measure to ease supply side constraint," agro-economist Dr Asaduzzaman told The New Nation on Sunday.
He said various measures taken by the government could not bring down the onion prices as the problem lies in managing the shortage. "An effective supply side management and market monitoring could yield good result in this regard."   
Citing the Indian experience, Dr Asaduzzaman urged the government to impose the stock holding limits on traders to make onions available in the market.
The India government recently imposed countrywide stock limits on onion with a view to improving domestic supply situation and control prices of the key cooking ingredients.
For retail traders, the stock limit is 100 quintals and for wholesales, it is 500 quintals.
Onion price continued to soar in the local market since September after India had restricted its onion export. The current price of onion is the highest ever in the country.
 "Consumers continue to bear the brunt of the rising prices of the onions and the government apparently turns 'helpless' in containing the price," President of Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) Golam Rahman told The New Nation.
He said the onion market is now under the grip of active manipulation and thus leads to the eye-watering price hike of the key kitchen staple. "The market could be easily manipulated as onion trade concentrated in the hands of a few big traders, based in Chattogram." Chattogram based onion traders are releasing their stock in a slow pace to create an artificial crisis of the item in the market. Even, they are selling Burmese onions five times higher than the landing cost amid poor market monitoring by the government agencies.
Wholesalers in Chattogram are now selling per kg Burmese onions at Tk 190 whereas their landing cost is at best Tk 50.  
Golam Rahman further said traders in Chattogram dumped rotten onion in the canal on Saturday and such onions believed to be hoarded to cash their high prices in the market. In such a situation, the government should take strict action against the hoarders to control the onion prices. It should also impose stock holding limit on traders to ensure smooth supply of the commodity in the market.
The government already took several steps, including massive import from overseas and imposing fines through mobile courts for selling onions at high prices. But these measures are yet to bring fruit and prices of the item maintain sharp swings causing huge discontent to the consumers.
The state-run Trading Corporation of Bangladesh began selling the commodity at Tk 45 per kilo through trucks in Dhaka. The scale of the operation, however, was too small to make an impact in the market.

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