India's decision to lift a ban on onion exports from January 1 may have provided some relief to Bangladeshi consumers but has led to a wave of anger among importers.
UNB has learnt that many of these businessmen are, in fact, reluctant to unload the imported onions that have already reached Chattogram Port, fearing losses due to a sharp drop in the prices of the sought-after vegetable in the domestic market.
India withdrew its ban on onion exports with effect from the new year, nearly three and a half months after imposing the same to contain the domestic prices. Onion prices had hit the roof in Bangladesh, following the abrupt ban.
However, after two days after the ban was lifted, as many as five trucks with 65 tonnes of onions reached Khatunganj, the biggest wholesale market in Chattogram, on Sunday, sources said. And in just a day, the onion prices dropped sharply at all major domestic hubs.
Businessmen say they imported onions at Tk 40-45 a kg but the prices have now declined to Tk 30-32 a kg in the wholesale market. "If we unload the imported onions and sell them, we are going to count huge losses," said an importer.
Also read: India lifts ban on onion export
Mohammad Idris, the general secretary of the Hamid Ullah Mia Market Association in Khatunganj, said, "Due to the drop in the prices of onions in local markets, many businessmen are not unloading their imports."
However, the port authorities have threatened to auction the imported onions if the traders do not take any steps to unload the consignments within 45 days.
Omar Faruk, secretary to Chattogram Port, said, “When the onion prices had hit the roof, some 24,000 tonnes of onions were imported from different countries. But they are yet to be unloaded by importers."
Authorities concerned have already sent reminders to these importers. "They now have 45 days to unload their goods, failing which we will put the imports on auction,” said Omar.
Also read: Indian onion reaches Hili port, price drops
Another businessman at Khatunganj market said, “Onions are available in the local market while some 23 to 24 thousand metric tonnes of onion are now waiting at the Chattogram port to be unloaded."
Deputy Director of Plant Quarantine Station at Chittagong Port Dr Mohammad Asaduzzaman Bulbul said the businessmen had submitted their requirement plans for importing 2.9 lakh metric tonnes of onions from abroad.
"As per their demand, the port authorities have provided clearance for importing 1.30 lakh MT onions from countries like Myanmar, Pakistan, China, Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia, South Africa, UAE, Iran and Russia," he said.
According to the Department of Agriculture Extension, 23 lakh tonnes of onion are produced in the country while there is a demand for 24-25 lakh tonnes. "But 30-35 percent local variety onions got damaged due to lack of proper preservation."
Onion prices jumped sharply in Bangladesh after India banned the export of the popular kitchen item on September 14.
However, Bangladesh took prompt steps to import the kitchen staple from other countries to cool down the prices and sell the same through its trading arm, the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB).
The prices have been falling for the past few weeks, with TCB offering the vegetable at Tk 23 a kg through various e-commerce platforms.
They have made their all-out efforts to get justice despite their limitations but the long wait of the parents of Felani is yet to end.
Now despair has gripped the ill-fated parents of Felani who was killed by members of Indian Border Security Force (BSF) along the Kurigram border nine years back.
Bangladeshi girl Felani, who used to work as a domestic help in New Delhi, was shot to death by the BSF members along Anantapur border point in Kurigram district on January 7, 2011while returning home crossing the barbed-wire fence along with her father.
Also read: Justice eludes Felani’s family
Later, BSF troops hanged her body on the barbed-wire fence along the border.
Felani's death triggered a huge global outcry as a picture of her body, which was hanging from the barbed-wire upside down, went viral. The BSF men handed over the body a day after her killing.
Following widespread criticisms, BSF started investigation into the incident and submitted a charge-sheet against its constable Amiya Ghosh who shot the girl.
Also read: Felani killing: Family yet to get justice
However, a special court constituted by the BSF had acquitted Amiya Ghosh of the charge on August 19, 2013.
Later, in the wake of widespread criticism of the acquittal, BSF decided to revise the murder trial. However, another judicial court upheld the previous verdict and acquitted Amiya Ghosh again on July 2, 2015.
Following this, Felani's father Nurul Islam with the help of human rights organisation Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum) filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court of India.
Later, Indian Supreme Court bench, headed by the chief justice, show-caused several bodies concerned, including the Home Ministry, in this regard.
Talking to UNB, Felani’s father, Nur Islam, said, “I went from door to door seeking justice in the last nine years but yet to get justice. The date of the trial proceedings deferred several times. How would I get justice in this situation?”
The last date of hearing was March 18, 2020, but the hearing did not take place due to Covid-19 pandemic, he said.
Jahanara Begum, mother of Felani, demanded justice drawing the attention of the government of the two countries.
SM Abraham Lincoln, Kurigram Public Prosecutor, said, “Like Bangladesh, India also wants justice in the case but the case lingered due to the delay in taking decisions by the BSF. The hearing on the case deferred several times. Now virtual hearing is taking place due to Covid-19.”
Also read: BSF promises measures to curb border killing
“If the authorities concerned take effective measures to hold virtual hearing, then the case will be disposed of soon. Otherwise, the writ petition hearing will be held after the improvement in the Covid-19 situation,” he said.
“I hope Felani’s family will get justice,” he added.
A landless sexagenarian amputee dependent on one son -- a van-puller by trade -- as the 8-member family's lone breadwinner could hardly dream of living out his days in a home to call his own, that too built on a piece of land in his own name.
But Hanif Matubbar, 65, is going to do just that after the government came forward to construct a modern home on a two-decimal land for him.
The government will also hand over the ownership of the two-decimal land to him.
Hanif Matubbar, 65, has been living along with his big family in a shabby hut on another person’s land at Afajuddin Munshikandi village of Zajira upazila under Shariatpur district.
He used to be a day-labourer, but gangrene put an end to his job prospects 27 years ago, a double blow to his life as he became unable to meet the family expenses.
Eventually, he was forced to have his right leg and fingers of the right hand amputated 10 years ago due to gangrene, leading to mounting the misery of his family.
Hanif, a father of three daughters and a son, forgot to see the dream of having a house on his own land as his son is the only bread earner for his family.
Though his three daughters were married off and live at their in-laws', his household has 8 members including his son's wife and four children. Let alone the dream of having a good house, it is even difficult for the family to live hand to mouth with the small income of a van-puller son.
But now the amputee person is going to get a house with modern facilities with a two-decimal of land under Ashrayan-2, a housing project run out of the Prime Minister’s Office.
The construction of the tin-shed pucca house on Khas land in Karimuddin Matubbar Kandi village under Senerchar Union of Zajira Upazila has been completed.
The government will hand over the house and land ownership to his family in mid-January.
Like Hanif Matubbar, 10 homeless and landless families are going to get modern houses on the same site under the Ashrayan-2 Project.
Each two-room home with kitchen, toilet and veranda is being constructed at a cost of Tk 1.75 lakh under the project.
“I never thought that I would have a home on my own land. But now I am happy seeing that I have a pucca-house on my own land. It was something more than my dream,” Hanif Matubbar told UNB.
Abdul Kadir Bapari, 45, a day-labourer, who has been living with his five-member family in a hut constructed on another person's land, is going to get a house in the same site with land ownership.
He has a wife, four daughters and a ten-year-old son in his family, but his two daughters were married. He is the lone earner for his family.
He said he is satisfied having such a good house. “I’m grateful to the government for giving a poor like me the house with land,” he said.
A widow, Zarina Begum, 65, who has been living with his youngest son in a rented house in Maniknagar Club Mor area will also receive a pucca house in the same Khas land.
She has five sons and a daughter. But four sons and the daughter got married and they all are living in nuclear families.
“Now I live along with my bachelor son who is a van-puller. We need to pay Tk 1500 each month as the house rent. But we’ll not be required to pay the money anymore,” Jarina Begum told UNB.
Another widow Mamataj Begum, 70, who is childless, will also be given a Tin-shed pucca house there.
Mamataj, inhabitant of Mujib Hawlader Kandi village, lost her husband 30 years ago. Since then she has been living with her sister’s daughter. She used to work as a domestic help.
“I’ve got a shelter getting the house,” she said.
Zajira Upazila Chairman Mobarak Ali Sikder said a total 54 families are going to get such Tin-shed pucca houses in January next in his upazila.
Of these, 100 percent construction work of 30 houses and 80 percent construction works of the remaining 24 percent have already been completed, he said.
“The beneficiaries are very happy as they are going to have such pucca houses,” the Upazila Chairman told UNB.
Project Director of Ashrayan-2 Md Mahbub Hossain said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will hand over at least 50,000 houses to homeless and landless people in mid-January.
A total of 65,726 houses are being constructed on Khas lands across the country for the homeless and also landless people at the cost of some Tk 1160 crore in the first phase of Ashrayan-2. The core idea is to commemorate the Mujib Centennial by drastically reducing homelessness in the country..
“The Prime Minister will also hand over the Kabuliat (document of ownership) of the lands along with houses to the beneficiaries,” he said.
Later, one lakh more houses will be constructed in the second phase in the Mujib Year under the project, said Mahbub Hossain.
“A total of 1.66 houses will be handed over to poor families in the country in the Mujib Year,” said the Project Director.
The government has a plan to construct some nine lakh houses for the homeless people in phases under the Ashrayan project aiming to ensure that no people would remain homeless, he said.
Once a sleeping port, Mongla is now a vital part of Bangladesh's economic infrastructure.
In fact, with the anchoring of the 117th foreign vessel on New Year's Eve, Mongla port touched a milestone in the monthly statistics of handling shipments in the past 70 years, surpassing all its previous records.
A Panama-flagged ship, ‘MV Wanda’, anchored at the port's Mooring Bay No 10 on Thursday night. The ship had left the port of Georges Lasfar in Morocco with fertilisers for unloading at Mongla on November 23.
With the arrival of MV Wanda, the port surpassed its previous record of foreign vessel handling at 106 in November 2020.
Harbour Master of Mongla Port, Commander Sheikh Fokor Uddin said that the recent dredging on the tidal estuary of the Bay of Bengal turned the corner of navigability at the port. "Not only that, the increasing modern facilities at the port have been prompting more foreign vessels to anchor at Mongla."
Statistics show that the number of ships arriving at the port has been increasing with each passing year, the Harbour Master said. "In 2014-15 fiscal, some 416 ships had docked at the port. The figure rose to 482 in 2015-16. In the next financial year, some 624 vessels had arrived while the number was 784 in 2017-18. In 2018-19, the number stood 912."
In the current fiscal, we hope the figure will exceed 1,000, Commander Sheikh added.
The foreign vessels that docked at the port last year included container carriers, car carriers, coal carriers, urea fertiliser suppliers. The foreign vessels also carried a nuclear reactor with other equipment, goods of power plants and railway cargo, cement clinker and LPG.
This gradual growth in shipments is boosting activity around the export zone. New industries are coming up, creating more job opportunities, according to officials.
Chairman of the Mongla Port Authority, Rear Admiral M Shahjahan said that "the navigability crisis at the port is over". "Ships with 9.5 metres drafting are now being able to anchor at the port comfortably. We hope Mongla port will be able to handle over 1,000 ships this fiscal."
The seaport that once faced closure, is now keeping pace with Chittagong, the largest seaport of Bangladesh. And the facilities offered by the port are now harmonious with other export zones.
Moreover, an agreement signed with a Chinese company for Inner bar dredging on December 30, will come into effect from this month. Once complete, it will pave the way for the port to become an apt alternative to Chittagong port.
Although imports fell drastically in the 2019-20 fiscal, the government aims to turn things around aiming for average import growth of 8% per year over the next three fiscals, including the current 2020-21.
The last quarter of the 2019-20 fiscal (April-June) coincided with the peak of the economic ravage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 'lockdown' and other measures implemented by governments worldwide, including Bangladesh, in response to the virus had a massive impact on economic activity. Depressed demand, fall in consumption and lower imports all went hand-in-hand.
According to available data from the country's central bank, Bangladesh's imports (including both goods and services) during the 2019-20 fiscal stood at $55.6 billion (over Tk 471,000) down from $62.9 billion (over Tk 528,000 crore ) in 2018-19, reflecting a decrease of 11.6%.
Imports of EPZs in the 2019-20 fiscal was Tk 25,631.7 crore, compared to Tk 30,830 crore in 2018-19, a fall of nearly 17 percent, which means EPZ imports fell proportionately more than overall imports.
According to an official document, the import growth projection for the running fiscal has been fixed at 10%, followed by 8% and 7% for 2021-22 and 2022-23 fiscals.
Imports for the 2019-20 fiscal were preliminarily projected to grow 10%, but later it was fixed at negative 10% due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The import growth in 2018-19 fiscal was 1.8%, according to official numbers.
It said that from the first half of the last fiscal the economy showed sluggish trend in import growth. The origination of coronavirus in Wuhan in January and worldwide lockdown added more woe to the scenario.
From July to March 2020 the import amount was USD 43.58 billion which is 4.81% lower than the previous year's corresponding period.
The growth of overall Letter of Credit or L/Cs opening for July to February 2020 was negative 1.04% while the opening of L/Cs for capital machineries was negative 0.57% and for import of raw materials was negative 1.24%.
The document mentioned that from March 26 the country went under 66 days of general holidays resulting in curtailing of most economic activities. From May 2020 the mills and factories were opened in limited scale.
As per the document, the government for revamping the export sector, which is mainly dependent on imported raw materials and capital machineries, had announced a financial stimulus package as a countercyclical measure.
To put the economic activities on track again, the government had announced stimulus packages worth Tk 121,000 crore, which is equivalent to 4.3 percent of country's GDP, at the initial stage of the general holidays to minimize the impacts COVID-19 pandemic on business, employment and productivity.
A total of 18 economic sectors, including export-oriented industries; small, medium and cottage industries, agriculture, fish farming, poultry and livestock were brought under these incentive packages.