A farmer carries his produce on a traditional bullock cart on the dirt road of Shalna in Gazipur yesterday. Farmers across the country are now busy harvesting their aman paddy leaving fields empty, much like the one seen in the background of the photo. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq
Bangladesh didn't receive even a single tonne of rice from India to contain the spiralling food prices between 2010 and 2011, despite its acceptance of India's terms and conditions, Food Minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque said yesterday.
The Indian authority, however, wanted to provide five lakh tonnes of rice and wheat voluntarily, said Razzaque.
India's pledge to give Bangladesh the grains came when the country was trying to overcome the impacts of cyclone Sidr and recurring floods.
"We did not want any favour or concessionary price. We wanted to buy the grains at the international market price," said the minister.
He said the Indian government gave many conditions and Bangladesh accepted them all.
The conditions stipulated relaxation of policies that Bangladesh usually follows when importing food grains, he said.
As a norm, the food ministry inspects the purchased food items at the ports of unloading, such as Chittagong and Mongla ports, but India insisted that the inspection should take place at the ports of loading.
"We accepted that," said Razzaque.
It then sought relaxation of the requirement for 5 percent performance guarantee, which the food ministry agreed to, he said.
Later, India imposed another condition which said 90 percent of the value of letters of credit would have to be paid before shipment, which Bangladesh accepted as well.
But that was not the last of India's demands. The next one stipulated that the inspection be conducted at the warehouse and payment be made through telegraphic transfer.
"Then I spoke to the highest level [of the Indian government] to convey my concerns over this proposition. What if some dishonest traders switch trucks after loading and send bad quality grains? We won't be able to do much then."
"The conditions were discussed in detail and we decided to accept them all, fearing a political backlash if a famine broke out. Still, we could not get the rice.â€
According to Razzaque, political tangles or internal problems might have been the reason behind India's decision. â€œBut wisdom should prevailâ€¦for humanity, for mankind."
His comments came at the inaugural session of a policy dialogue â€œValue Chains for Inclusive Development: Lessons and Policies for South Asiaâ€, organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue in association with several national, regional and international organisations at the Brac Centre.
The minister expressed his gratitude to Vietnam and Thailand that sold Bangladesh 5 lakh and 2.50 lakh tonnes of rice during the food crisis.
"Fortunately, we could tackle the crisis. Vietnam and Thailand accepted the terms and conditions we usually practise,â€ Razzaque said.
"We also got wheat from Ukraine and they too accepted the terms and conditions we practise."
Terming his experience with India a bitter one, Razzaque stressed the need for â€œpolitical willâ€ and â€œsincere political wishesâ€ for effective regional co-operation.
"It depends on political leadership."
The Saarc Food Bank is yet to become operational despite the framework and mode of operation being in place, said the minister.