June 2, 2022
DHAKA – Hoarding by small traders as well as large business groups has been causing rice prices to soar, giving low-income people a hard time.
From large corporate groups to brick kilns owners to primary school teachers, people are hoarding rice, Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder told reporters at his office yesterday.
“We’ve intelligence reports that the big corporate groups are hoarding excessive amounts of rice violating the rules,” Sadhan said.
He told The Daily Star last night that the government had launched a drive across the country to check whether the intelligence report was right.
Rice prices have risen by Tk 8-10 a kg over the last two weeks even though it is the Boro harvest season and there is an ample supply of paddy.
According to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh, the prices of coarse and fine rice increased by 5.38 percent and 3.17 percent in just a week.
The food minister yesterday told reporters that six major industrial groups — Square, Pran, City, Akij, Bashundhara and ACI — were mainly to blame for hoarding and the rise in rice prices.
Spokespersons of the companies denied wrongdoing when contacted by this correspondent.
The six companies were found packing rice for sale at Tk 80-85 per kg after buying it at Tk 60-65 a kg in Naogaon, Dinajpur and Bogura districts, he said.
“We have also found that those who are not rice traders, for example, brick kiln owners and primary school teachers, are also stockpiling rice,” he added.
Responding to a question at the secretariat, the food minister said, “We are considering whether to issue a circular restricting the sale of packaged rice.”
If the large companies want to sell packaged rice, they may import rice paying 67 percent tax and sell it in packs.
“We’re discussing the matter. We have prepared a summary of the circular to send to the prime minister,” he said.
If need be, the government will import rice to keep the market stable and punish the syndicate of business owners, Sadhan added.
“We have found an extra 5,000 tonnes of rice worth Tk 40 crore at a go-down of Square Group in Dinajpur,” he said.
Contacted, Biplob Kumar Singh Roy, food control officer of Dinajpur, said a case was filed with Dinajpur Police Station against Square Food and Beverage Limited for hoarding rice and paddy.
Mortuza Al Moeen, the UNO of Dinajpur Sadar Upazila, said the company has permission to stock 306 tonnes of rice, but a mobile court found around 5,124 tonnes of aromatic rice at six warehouses of Square.
Imtiaz Firoze, head of marketing of Square Food and Beverage, said they produce, process and market aromatic rice, not the regular ones that people consume on a daily basis.
“Therefore, it has no relation to creating volatility in the market,” he said, adding that they have permission from the commerce ministry to export 3,000 tonnes of aromatic rice.
“We will keep the remaining 2,000 tonnes for the local market,” he said.
The minister also said that officials found sacks of rice marked Akij Group at rented rice mills in Mohadevpur, Naogaon.
“Rice should be in sacks mentioning the name of the rented mill, not Akij,” he said, citing the rules that were formulated to prevent hoarding.
Contacted, Minhaj Ahmed, chief operating officer at Akij, said the firm will abide by the government directives to keep the market stable, but declined to comment on the specific allegation.
Biswajit Saha, director of corporate and regulatory affairs of City Group, said his company buys paddy from the market and sells rice. “We do not pack the rice bought from the market.”
Redhwanur Rahman, head of division and executive director at Bashundhara Food & Beverage Industries Ltd, said his company does not have rice mills and it does not market rice.
Kamruzzaman Kamal, director of marketing at Pran-RFL Group, said, “We do not hoard rice. We buy paddy from farmers gradually and sell rice in the market.”
Faria Yasmin, business director at ACI Foods and Commodity Businesses, said, “We are doing ethical business in Bangladesh, following all the rules and regulations.”
CRACKDOWN ON HOARDERS
Five teams of officials conducted raids at the capital’s Hatirpool, Karwan Bazar, Mirpur-1, Babubazar and Mohammadpur yesterday, but could not find hoarders.
In Dinajpur, rice prices dropped by Tk 2 a kg amid the drive.
On Tuesday, two mobile courts fined six traders Tk 63,000 for illegal hoardings in Hakimpur and Birampur upazilas of Dinajpur.