The supply chain and export-import activities virtually came to a standstill yesterday with the start of yet another three-day shutdown as transport contractors of Chittagong, the country's main transit for goods, refused to ply the highways for fear of vandalism.
The 16 inland container depots (ICDs) in Chittagong, where all outbound cargo must be deposited for packaging as per the requirements of shipping vessels, failed to transport a single export container to the port.
At the same time, no goods-laden vehicles from factories across the country entered the ICDs, according to Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association (BICDA).
The next outbound vessel, Christa Rickmers, is scheduled to leave the port today but 66 TEUs (twenty feet equivalent units) still remain stranded at the ICDs, BICDA officials said.
It was the same story for importers as well. Many of the clearing and forwarding (C&F) agents who had already completed all procedures to get delivery of their imported goods from the port were found worriedly waiting at Chittagong Customs House yesterday for transport to carry the goods.
“There were many hartals in the nineties but never have we seen goods-laden trucks on the highways being attacked, as it is happening nowadays,” said Syed Sagir Ahmed, general secretary of Khatunganj Trade and Industry Association.
As a result, the transport contractors now refuse to carry goods on the highway on hartal days, thereby cutting off the supply chain and export-import activities, he added.
“We need three container carriers to get delivery of three import containers and 36 trucks for carrying goods of 12 other containers. But, we couldn't manage a single truck or carrier,” said Khurram Naieem of Asian Trading, a C&F firm.
The goods were mostly raw materials bound for different chemical and textile factories in Dhaka and Gazipur. “We now have to wait till the hartal ends on Wednesday evening.”
As of yesterday afternoon, only 100 TEUs of import containers could be delivered from the port, whereas on a normal day the volume stands at around 2,000 TEUs, according to Chittagong Port Authority.
Meanwhile, the port city business community yesterday expressed frustration over yet another three-day shutdown, which looks set to mount their losses.
“We understand that enforcing hartals is a democratic right but the political parties have to bear in mind its effect on the economy,” Mahbub Alam, president of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI), said.
He went on to cite the losses incurred by the port city's business community as a case in point. On any hartal day, the losses range from Tk 700 crore to Tk 800 crore, the CCCI president said.
“Since Chittagong is the country's main transit for goods, any disruptions here by way of hartal affect the whole country. For instance, imported essentials cannot be transported to the rest of the country during hartals, which cause their prices to soar in retail markets.”
Another casualty of hartals, he said, would be the banking sector, whose default loans would pile up.
“Successive hartals mean heavy losses for business persons – they simply would not be able to pay their bank loans.”
Activities in Khatunganj Wholesale Market, one of the main wholesale markets for daily essentials, yesterday slumped as goods-laden vehicles were left stranded by the hartal.
Transactions on a normal day at the wholesale market stand between Tk 1,000 and Tk 1,200 crore. But yesterday, it came crashing down to less than Tk 100 crore, said the general secretary of Khatunganj Trade and Industry Association.
“This cannot be sustained -- we want an immediate solution to this political feud.”
The price spiral which Alam spoke of, however, has already started to surface at the retail level: the prices of vegetables have soared.
Abdur Razzak, president of Kazir Dewri Kitchen Market Traders' Association, yesterday told The Daily Star that prices of vegetables have shot up by Tk 10 to Tk 20 per kg as no supplies arrived in the city yesterday morning due to hartal.
For example, the price of per kg of bottle gourd has crawled up to Tk 45 from Tk 35, cauliflower to Tk 80 from Tk 60 and cabbage to Tk 50 from Tk 40, he said.
Mohammad Yasin, president of Karnaphuli Kitchen Market Traders' Association, echoed the same. “The prices of vegetables have soared up by Tk 10 per kg in our market.”
“Ultimately, the common people will bear the brunt,” said the CCCI president. Alam appealed to the political parties to come to an agreement soon through discussions.