Terming the crisis artificial, senior treasury and opposition bench lawmakers yesterday came down heavily on the government in parliament for failing to check skyrocketing onion prices.
They said people were suffering and the government’s failure to bring down the prices of the daily essential would trigger negative reaction from the people.
The MPs, taking the floor on points of order, said there was “no shortage” of onions in the market and the crisis was artificially created.
The prime minister was present when lawmakers vented their displeasure. Later, she too said that unscrupulous traders were hoarding onions.
Awami League senior parliamentarian Mohammad Nasim said, “Commerce minister [Tipu Munshi] and finance minister [AHM Mustafa Kamal] are saying that onions are being imported, then why prices are shooting up every day?
“It is not understandable. It is tarnishing our image. It will be bad for us if people start to react,” said Nasim, who launched the criticism.
“When the commerce minister makes statement that price of a kg of onions will not come down to Tk 100, then traders get the opportunity [to hike the price even more],” he added.
Nasim urged the commerce and finance ministers to take effective steps and be more active to check the price spiral.
Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Commerce Tofail Ahmed said onion prices further increased due to cyclone Bulbul.
“I am really sad to say that price of a kg is now Tk 200. We have never thought that price of a kg of onions will reach Tk 200,” said the former commerce minister.
Yesterday, onions were actually being sold for as high as Tk 220 a kg in retail markets.
Tofail urged the finance minister to withdraw all kinds of duties on onion imports to manage the crisis.
Jatiya Party MP Mujibul Haque suggested drives against unscrupulous traders to control the prices.
“We see that Phensidyl traders are getting killed in shootouts. It will be an example if onion traders responsible for the price hike die in shootouts.”
He urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to “take personal initiative” to import onions from India.
BNP lawmaker Harunur Rashid said people were making fun of the skyrocketing onion prices on social media. “The government should be more active in controlling the prices.”
Speaking about the soaring prices of onions, Hasina in her winding-up speech for the 5th session of the 11th parliament said the government would sell 50,000 tonnes of onions in the open markets in districts to curb rising prices.
She said the government has already taken steps to import onion from different countries, including Egypt and Turkey.
“LCs [letters of credit] have been opened for importing 50,000 tonnes of onions ... These onions will reach within a few days. We will give these onions to TCB [Trading Corporation of Bangladesh] to carry this to districts on trucks.
“We are aware about it and alert so that it [crisis] cannot deteriorate further.”
The PM said the TCB was selling onions for Tk 45-50 per kg at different places.
Hasina said officials during drives found onions going bad in storages but those were not being sold.
She said that usually farmers grow onion once a year. Researchers are working so that it could be grown round the year,” she added.
Hasina said onions were Rs 100 a kg across India except one state.
When lawmakers were vocal in parliament, the prices of the essential spice were making new records.
Within a day, the prices went up by Tk 30-40 per kg.
Yesterday afternoon, a kg of onions was being sold for Tk 220 in the capital.
The Burmese variety was selling for Tk 190-200 a kg and the Egyptian ones Tk 170-180.
The Daily Star found the prices at two kitchen markets and several retail stores in the city’s Karwan Bazar, Moghbazar, and Farmgate areas.
During the visits, buyers were seen arguing with sellers, expressing frustration, and anger. Some were even mocking the “ridiculous” prices.
“It is simply fraud and anarchy. A section of traders is making extra profit, but the government is doing nothing,” said Muhammad Mustafa in Karwan Bazar at one stage of his argument with a retailer.
He had gone to four-five shops but left the market without buying onions.
Shopper Saiful Islam said onions have no alternative and it was hard to stop using them.
“I think that the people of low-income group, like us, will have to stop onion consumption now.”
Wholesalers and retailers were blaming “supply shortage” for the price hike.
“The way the shortage is, I think many traders will not be able to buy onions in the coming days,” said Md Hridoy, a wholesaler in Karwan Bazar.
However, the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection, during a drive in the city’s Shyambazar, found no supply shortage.
Shyambazar is one of the country’s largest spice wholesale markets.
“We found sufficient quantity of onions in the market. We asked the traders why they were giving the excuse of supply shortfall, but none of them could give us a satisfactory answer,” said Abdul Jabbar, an assistant director of the directorate.