Half of July goes to hartal, weekends
Iftakher Uddin Farhad, a ceramic product exporter, suffered a loss of Tk 10 lakh failing to ship goods to the US and the UK on July 7, the second day of a 48-hour hartal.
“This is unjust. Now I am in trouble… I have to pay the factory staffs,” said Iftakher, chairman and managing director of export-oriented FARR Ceramics.
Anwar-ul Alam Chowdhury Parvez, a leading garment exporter, had to send goods by air at three times the cost of delivery by ships. “Otherwise I would have lost the buyers,” Parvez said.
Like Parvez many garment exporters sent their shipments by air during the hartals.
A commodity importer fears that hartals would have an impact on prices of essentials ahead of Ramadan next month. A glass manufacturer, who has to pay bank instalments regularly, has to suffer as the company cannot collect money from the market during hartals.
Banks also under-perform during hartals.
Hartal has deducted this month's working days significantly. People would get only 15 working days out of 31 days in July, provided there are no more hartals.
Ten of the days this month are weekends -- Fridays and Saturdays. BNP and its allies already observed two days of hartal. Some Islamic parties supported by BNP enforced another 30-hour hartal from July 10 to 11. The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports also observed a half-day hartal on July 3. There would be a holiday for Shab-e-barat as well.
There are hundreds of examples of how hartals kill the economy but they disrupt personal life a lot too. Schools and universities remain closed as a result of the strike.
Hartal is very familiar in this part of the world. It was used by the pre-independence politicians to unite the then East Pakistani population against the government to force it to meet their legitimate demands. Hartal as a political programme was also observed frequently during the autocratic rule of Ershad. Vehicles were burnt, office goers threatened and industries forced to close during hartals.
“What is the necessity of hartal now?” said Mostofa Kamal, chairman and managing director of Meghna Group of Industries, one of the biggest commodity traders in the country.
He cited the example of Japan which has to go through times of political instability but no hartal is called there for the sake of the economy.
Kamal said the supply chain is being affected by hartal and consequently it would contribute to a price hike ahead of the Ramadan next month.
Bangladesh's external trade stood at $52 billion (half of the country's GDP) in fiscal year 2010-11 and imports accounted for $32 billion of it.
Hartal's cost is huge; affecting businesses through piling of stocks to a rise in bank interest payments. Circulation of money also goes down significantly on the hartal days.
“Our collection of money has gone down to only Tk 35 lakh instead of the regular Tk 120 lakh,” said Mizanur Rahman, head of marketing of PHP Float Glass.
Banking business, especially cash transactions, is badly affected by hartals.
“Neither can we bring cash from the vaults nor customers can take the risk to withdraw big amounts on hartal days,” said Ahmedul Haque, executive vice-president and head of Karwan Bazar branch of Mercantile Bank.
Now businesses are trying to find ways out of the increasing threat of hartals, which they fear they would have to face more in the months ahead.
A bicycle exporter kept his factories open last Friday to make up for the losses he incurred during hartal. “I've to spend Tk 5 lakh extra to pay the staff,” said the exporter.
Like the bicycle exporter, many manufacturers kept their factories open on holidays.