The food ministry has started allowing the import of rice in low tariff in the private sector.
Some 29 organisations are permitted to import 330,000 metric tonnes of rice in the last three days, which has been termed a hasty move by the people concerned.
The ministry of food will accept applications for import till 10 January.
According to the list, the approved organisations are from 12 districts.
Among them, traders of Naogaon are permitted to import a maximum of 55,000 tonnes of rice. Naogaon is the home district of food minister Shadhan Chandra Mazumdar. Once he himself was a rice trader.
On 3 January, the first day of giving permission, the food ministry gave permission to import 105,000 tonnes of rice. Traders of Naogaon got permission to import 55,000 tonnes of rice in the first day alone. Besides, several traders of the same family have been given permission. One even claimed to be close to the food minister.
To rein in the price hike of rice in the local market, the government has decided to decrease the import tariff from 62 per cent to 25 per cent. However, traders have to take permission from the food ministry to import at lower tariffs. The ministry is approving them on several conditions.
Out of the 29 companies, five companies in Naogaon have been allowed to import 55,000 tonnes, four companies in Jashore 45,000 tonnes, two companies in Satkhira 40,000 tonnes, four companies in Chapainawabganj 35,000 tonnes and four companies in Bogra 30,000 tonnes. Besides, the list includes companies from Chattogram, Dinajpur, Joypurhat, Khulna, Gaibandha, Pabna and Dhaka.
Aditya Majumdar and Chitta Majumdar, two of the most prominent rice mill owners, have got the permission to import 95,000 tonnes of coarse rice. Aditya Majumdar has got permission to import 45,000 tonnes of rice in the name of his two companies at Noapara, Jashore and Tala upazila in Satkhira District. Chitta Majumdar has got the permission to import 50,000 tonnes through his company named Majumdar Traders, located at Planners Tower in Dhaka.
Aditya Majumdar, the owner of Majumdar and Sons and Majumdar Enterprise, said to Prothom Alo, “Our family has been involved in rice mill management, rice distribution and import business for a long time. So the government has allocated our two brothers' companies to import more rice.”
Ghosh Automatic Rice in Naogaon owned by Dwijendranath Ghosh and his son’s company Akash Enterprise also got permission to import rice. These companies are two of the approved companies which are owned by the members of the same family. These two companies have been permitted to import 25,000 tonnes of rice.
Dwijendra Nath Ghosh, who identified himself as close to minister Sadhan Chandra Majumdar, told Prothom Alo, "We have been in the rice mill business for many years. But earlier only once I imported rice.”
Jagadish Chandra Roy, another trader from Naogaon, has got the permission to import 10,000 tonnes of rice. He is primarily known as a fuel oil trader. He also has a rice import license with his company named Parmita Traders, a fuel oil company.
Acknowledging the fact that, he earlier imported rice only once, Jagadish Chandra Roy said to Prothom Alo, “Our minister has given the opportunity to import rice, and it is a good thing. But it is difficult to import rice in 25 per cent tariffs with tough conditions.
According to importers, most of the major rice importers of the country are from Noapara in Jashore and Khatunganj in Chattogram. The traders of Chattogram and Noapara imported the largest portion of the rice every time they were given the opportunity to do so. At that time, the approval of the food ministry was not required for import.
According to the statistics of the food ministry, if rice is imported from India, the price will be Tk 34 to 35 per kg in Bangladesh. So, the difference between local and imported rice will be Tk 15 per kg. As a result, those who got the opportunity to import rice, will be able to sell rice on more profit in the local market. At the same time, the policy makers of the government think that the price of rice will also come down in the country's market.
It was not possible to talk to the food minister for comments despite repeated attempts. However, an official of the ministry claimed that those who are coming are being given the chance. There is no priority for any district.
According to the conditions of the food ministry, within seven days of getting the permission to import, the letter of credit or LC must be opened. Depending on the quantities, rice has to be imported and distributed in the market within 10 to 30 days.
Prothom Alo talked over cell phones with 18 of the 29 traders. None of them has opened LC till Tuesday.
A trader who imported a large quantity of rice in 2016 on condition of anonymity told Prothom Alo, “There is no scope of importing rice from other countries except within such a short time. We could have imported rice from Myanmar and Pakistan, if we were given the permission to import sunned rice.”
He said there is an opportunity to apply till 10 January. Licenses are given hastily even before the deadline.