With two days to Eid, local traders fear rotting or smuggling of unsold rawhide of sacrificial animals as tanners have not paid the arrears with which they could buy the hides.
The tanners owe rawhide merchants across the country Tk 350 crore accumulated over the last four years, said Delwar Hossain, president of Bangladesh Hide & Skin Merchants' Association, the main platform of rawhide traders.
“We have not received the arrears so far to purchase the rawhide,” said Shariful Islam, president of Natore Rawhide Merchants Group. Natore is the country's second largest rawhide market after Posta in Dhaka.
The traders expect payment of at least 30 percent of the arrears by tomorrow. But only a few tanners have committed to pay and many were giving the excuse that they had to move their tanneries from Hazaribagh to Savar.
Delwar said only 10 percent tanners have so far assured that they would make the payment by Monday.
“But, we are expecting at least 30 percent payment by tomorrow [Monday]. If the payment is not made, there is a possibility the rawhide would either rot or smuggled,” he told The Daily Star over phone.
Asked if the government had assured them of emergency funds in case of non-payment by the tanners, he said there was no such backup from any quarters.
Delwar said small traders are likely to purchase rawhide with their own money and preserve them applying salt.
The price of salt has increased by Tk 100 per 75kg bag ahead of Eid.
The traders fear they may not be able to afford the salt if tanners do not make the payments in time.
“We are in a big trouble,” said Delwar, adding that the traders were scheduled to purchase rawhide from 16 large markets across the country, including the largest three -- Posta in Dhaka, Natore and Chittagong. They buy 60 percent of their rawhides from the three markets.
He said rawhide for more than 50 percent of the country's leather exports are collected during the Eid.
“I hope the tanners will pay 30 percent of the dues by Monday,” said Md Shaheen Ahamed, chairman of Bangladesh Tanners Association.
The tanners can also pay the money after Eid, he added.
“We usually pay up to 80 percent to the traders ahead of Eid. But we have failed to do so the last two years because of the moving cost of the factories from Hazaribagh to Savar,” Shaheen added.
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed could not be contacted over phone to know if the government had a plan to manage an emergency fund for the traders.
Devdas Bhattachariya, deputy inspector general of Rangpur Police Range, said he has already alerted his colleagues to tighten security along the border in Dinajpur, Thakurgaon, Panchagarh, Nilphamari and Lalmonirhat districts to prevent smuggling of rawhide.
Leather and leather goods are Bangladesh's second largest export items after ready-made garments. The country in the last fiscal year exported leather and leather goods worth $1.08 billion, down 12.03 percent year-on-year.
The income was also 21.34 percent below the annual target of $1.38 billion because of the factories being moved.
Only 25 to 30 out of 155 tanneries were in operation last year at the newly established industrial zone in Savar. This year, 114 out of 155 have started operation so far although the Central Effluent Treatment Plant is yet to go fully functional.
According to the Department of Livestock, around 1.16 crore animals would be sacrificed this year. Of the animals, 44.57 lakh would be cows and buffalos, some 71 lakh goats and sheep and 31,000 other animals like camels and fat-tailed sheep.
The price of per square foot of salt-applied rawhide of cows and buffalos has been fixed at Tk 45-50 in Dhaka and Tk 35-40 outside the capital. For goat hide it is Tk 13-20 across the country.
[Our Dinajpur correspondent Kongkon Karmaker and Natore correspondent Bulbul Ahmed contributed to this report]