A recent move to relocate the tea auction centre from Chittagong to Srimangal in Sylhet has vehemently been opposed by businessmen, tea traders and politicians of the port city.
They said the move is politically-motivated and devoid of a real economic basis.
Chittagong has been hosting tea auction for more than 60 years with required infrastructure including a testing centre, auction centre, warehouses and brokerage houses, generating employment for thousands of people.
A three-member team from a parliamentary committee led by lawmaker Tahura Ali visited Chittagong recently to meet stakeholders and take their opinion on the matter.
People related to tea trade said local and foreign buyers feel more comfortable coming to Chittagong to participate in auction because of the available facilities.
Shantanu Biswas, former chairman of Tea Traders' Association of Bangladesh, said the tea auction has been carried out for more than six decades in Chittagong with trust, acceptability and efficiency, with no complaints from any quarter.
Biswas said the main purpose of a tea producer is to sell his product to a trader at the 'right price'.
“Throughout the world, tea auction centres have been set up keeping the traders' convenience in mind and not in the tea producing areas.”
Citing a few examples, he said, tea auction centres are set up in Colombo, Kolkata and Mombasa, which are not tea producing areas, but main cities.
Biswas said the prices are determined by the forces of demand and supply.
The 'hammer price' of tea has already shot up to more than Tk 300 a kilogram, said Biswas, who is also the chief operating officer of a reputed tea company, Ispahani Tea.
Mahbubul Alam, the newly-elected president of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry, recently wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, urging her to stop shifting the tea auction centre from the port city to Srimangal.
Alam said many people work in the auction centre, testing centre and warehouses in the area and the livelihood of thousands of people depends on the industry.“The move seems to be more politically-motivated than out of commercial expediency,” he said.
Nader Khan, a tea garden owner from Chittagong, said he is not clear on why such a move is being initiated when the required infrastructure has not even been set up in Srimangal.
Terming the relocation proposal illogical, he said, “As a producer, I would consider the convenience of the trader first, as my main purpose is to sell my product at the most beneficial prices.”
The main matter of concern in the tea industry at the moment is the overall decline in production when the domestic demand is growing rapidly. He wants more effort to be given towards increasing production so that Bangladesh does not have to import tea any more. Opposition has been voiced from both ends of the political spectrum in Chittagong.
ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury, president of Awami League Chittagong city unit, said he also wrote to the prime minister, expressing dissatisfaction.
His counterpart in BNP, Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury said tea trade in Chittagong has become a “way of life” and this move is yet another example of an attempt to gain narrow political leverage.
The BNP leader said the professionalism required to carry out such auctions has long been proven in Chittagong and it takes time to establish such proficiency in any new centre.
Tahura Ali, the leader of the three-member committee, said Chittagong has established itself as an efficient tea trading centre; there is no plan to shift the auction centre from Chittagong. The team would visit Srimangal to assess the situation, and if necessary, an additional auction centre could be set up there.
Despite repeated attempts, the chairman of Bangladesh Tea Board and its officials could not be contacted.