Rice price soars
As rice prices have gone up further in the last four days, the government yesterday said conspiracy has been afoot to destabilise the rice market.
“A certain quarter is playing politics with rice across the country.... A subtle conspiracy has been hatched to embarrass the government,” Food Minister Qamrul Islam told reporters at a press briefing at his secretariat office.
“The country now has a rice stock of 1 crore tonnes at various levels. There is no rice crisis.... There is no reason that the price of rice will spiral to Tk 70 to Tk 80 a kg or attempts will be made to hike it to Tk 100,” he added.
Meanwhile, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed yesterday in parliament dismissed some recent newspaper reports that India stopped exporting rice to Bangladesh till November.
“I talked to the Indian deputy high commissioner over the phone today [yesterday]. I also contacted our high commissioner in India. They categorically denied the information that India has stopped rice export to Bangladesh,” he said.
Responding to a point of order by Jatiya Party lawmaker Nurul Islam Milon, the minister said a vested quarter was trying to create an artificial crisis in the rice market in a bid to increase the prices.
According to Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), the retail price of coarse rice rose by Tk 1 a kg every day from September 11. Yesterday, the price soared by Tk 2.
Each kg of coarse rice, mainly consumed by low-income people, was sold at Tk 47 to Tk 50 yesterday, up from Tk 43 to Tk 45 on September 10.
Prices of the staple eased slightly and remained stable last month after the government had cut the rice import tariff to 2 percent from 10 percent.
Some media outlets recently ran news based on a fake Indian government notification that the neighbouring country has banned rice export.
Several ministers and rice industry stakeholders said a section of traders made a hefty profit in the last few days after spreading fake information that the Indian government imposed a ban on rice export to Bangladesh.
The food minister said a section of unscrupulous businessmen and rice millers started using tricks to hike rice prices. The government would take several steps to stabilise the rice market, he added.
Qamrul said rice traders and millers from across the country would meet at the food ministry on Tuesday to find out the reasons for the price hike. The commerce and agriculture ministers will also be present at the meeting.
The government would introduce Open Market Sale (OMS) of rice in divisional and district towns from Sunday, he added.
He said distribution of rice among some 50 lakh ultra-poor families at Tk 10 per kg would begin on September 20 under the “Food Friendly Programme”.
Rice will be distributed among the rural poor at union levels during the lean periods of September-November and March-April, the minister told reporters.
He said the launch of the “Food Friendly Programme” was delayed due to Eid holidays and heavy rains. The rice meant for distribution in September would be given away to cardholder ultra-poor people till October 15, said the minister.
Qamrul said the government had set the boro production target at 1.90 crore tonnes. But floods and the blast disease damaged around 20 lakh tonnes of standing crops. Besides, around 22 lakh tonnes of aus rice has been produced.
According to the minister, 1.92 lakh tonnes of rice have been harvested in the last four months. Private importers also imported 6 lakh tonnes of rice.
During the same period, people consumed 1.02 crore tonnes of the staple. The country's current rice stock of 1 crore tonnes is with businessmen, millers and consumers. There is no rice crisis in the country, he claimed.
About the government stock, the food minister said their target for internal procurement was 12.50 tonnes in the boro season. But the government could buy only 2.5 lakh tonnes as rice price soared. The government has taken an initiative to make up the stock deficit through import, he added.
Qamrul said 2.5 lakh tonnes of rice has already reached the country from Vietnam. Rice imported from some other countries would arrive in the next three months. The government can continue with its various rice aid programmes as it has enough stock, he claimed.
The government's stock, he said, would not increase till November as it would distribute 2 lack tonnes of rice each month. However, the stock would rise from December.
A Myanmar team would arrive in Dhaka on Sunday to discuss purchase of two lakh tonnes of rice from that country, said the minister.
He had been to Myanmar early this week to negotiate the rice purchase with the neighbouring country. The minister made the visit at a time when thousands of Myanmar Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh escaping persecution.
Qamrul said he talked to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina a day before flying to Myanmar. “The honourable prime minister told me that diplomacy and trade would continue simultaneously.”
Our Dinajpur correspondent reports: Rice prices in the district soared by Tk 200 to Tk 300 per 50kg bag in the last 10 days.
Local traders said prices started increasing on September 5.
'NO FOOD CRISIS IN COUNTRY'
Speaking at parliament, Tofail claimed there was no food crisis in the country now.
The minister informed the House that the prime minister on September 20 would inaugurate the “Food Friendly Programme” under which rice would be sold at Tk 10 a kg.
Jatiya Party lawmaker Milon drew the food minister's attention to some newspaper reports on a ban on rice export to Bangladesh by India.
The opposition MP expressed concern that the country might face a rice crisis if India took such a decision. He demanded respective ministers give statements on the issue in the House to clarify about it.
Tofail in reply said some journalists called on him at his secretariat office on Wednesday and showed him a circular saying that India has stopped rice export to Bangladesh.
“I told reporters that I would verify the information. But without verifying the information, some newspapers ran news which was totally false.”
The minister said rice production decreased this year due to flash floods in haor areas.
“But I want to inform people that we have 4.47 lakh tonnes of rice in the warehouses. Besides, there is adequate rice and paddy in all rice mills.”
Talking to reporters at his ministry office yesterday, Tofail said the government was conducting drives against hoarding of rice. The deputy commissioners and superintendents of police of all the districts have been asked to carry out such drives.
He said tough actions would be taken against those traders who were hoarding rice to “tarnish the government's image”.