Mostafa Sohrab Chowdhury, president of the Rangpur chamber, joined the meeting virtually. He said they had to pay toll to the police almost everywhere on their way from Rangpur to Dhaka to supply goods.
The traders have long been complaining about the toll collected from vehicles carrying commodities on the road. However, they believe no action has been taken in this regard.
Asked about the allegation, the spokesperson of police headquarters and assistant inspector general (AIG) of police, Kamruzzaman told Prothom Alo, “If the traders give us information about the people involved in extortion instead of just complaining, we will take necessary action. We have a zero-tolerance policy regarding this.”
“A few among us may certainly be involved in this. However, to complain against all is not right,” he added.
Meanwhile, the same scenario has come up in the reports of government organisations as well. According to an investigative report of the Department of Agricultural Marketing in February, the cabbage that the farmers sold at Tk 13 on average, was sold at Tk 38 in the retail markets of Dhaka which is almost three times the price sold at the farmer level. Not only cabbage but also eggplant, beans, cauliflower and chillies are sold at two to three times the farmer's price in the Dhaka market. This is due to middlemen, transportation costs and police extortion.
The report was prepared based on the information from the farmers, middlemen, wholesalers and retail sellers in the capital’s Karwan Bazar, Bagura, Jashore, Rajshahi and Meherpur.
According to that investigative report, as per information provided by the farmers in Rajshahi, the truck fare from the district’s Baneshwar Bazar to Karwan Bazar in Dhaka is Tk 17,000. But they have to pay around Tk 1,500 as extortion in several places including Aamchattar in Rajshahi, Belpukuria, Natore bypass, Elenga bypass, Tangail bypass and Karwan Bazar in Dhaka. The truck fare from Jashore to Karwan Bazar in Dhaka is Tk 24,000. In this route too, the traders have to pay extortion. The money spent as extortion on the highways has been shown as 'road cost'.
FBCCI president Md Jashim Uddin, moderator of the meeting, said, “Toll is being collected in almost all the ghats. The traders are quite concerned about this. I will arrange a meeting with the police chief soon in this regard."
He will also make arrangements to convey the message of the traders to the higher echelons of the government.
Speaking to Prothom Alo at night, Jashim Uddin said, “There are several reasons for the difference between the retail and wholesale prices. One of them is extortion. If there is goodwill, it is possible to at least reduce extortion, if not completely stop it. However, the goodwill of the law enforcement agencies, who allegedly are involved in extortion, is most important."
Committee for monitoring the market
FBCCI, the apex body for the traders in Bangladesh, arranges a meeting ahead of Ramadan every year on market prices and supply. However, the situation is different this year as the prices of commodities have skyrocketed. People are queuing up for hours in front of the trucks of Trading Corporation Bangladesh (TCB), a government distributing agency. The political parties are holding demonstrations in protest of the price hike. BNP staged a symbolic mass-hunger strike in Dhaka on Saturday.
Some traders, who took part in the meeting, said the price of rice, onions, garlic, potato, chickpeas, sugar and dates would not increase as there is enough stock and no shortage of supply. But they also suggested the FBCCI monitor the market on a regular basis so that unscrupulous traders could not get any chance.
The FBCCI president said they have formed a 46-member monitoring committee to monitor the market price in Ramadan. They will monitor whether the commodities are sold at the price fixed by the government or not.
He urged the traders not to default till 30 June. He said that the credit limit of traders has been exceeded due to the increase in the prices of imported products. To address the situation, the existing working capital debt limit needs to be increased by at least 40 per cent.
Urging the government to adjust the tax and tariff rates, Jashim Uddin further said that since the prices of commodities have gone up, even if the tariffs and tax rates are reduced, there will be no shortage of government revenue. And this will give some relief to common people.
Among the others present at the meeting were FBCCI’s senior vice-president Mostafa Azad Chowdhury, former vice-president Md Helal Uddin, director Rezaul Karim and Harunur Rashid.
Milk, eggs, meat at affordable prices
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock will sell milk, eggs and meat at affordable prices in 10 places in the capital on the occasion of Ramadan. The sale started on Sunday. This special programme will continue till 28 Ramadan. The ministry declared this through a notification on Saturday.
It said, “Fisheries and livestock minister SM Rezaul Karim will inaugurate the programme at a function at the premises of the Department of Livestock Services (DLS) in the capital’s Farmgate area on Sunday morning.”
The initially selected places are - Abdul Ghani Road adjacent to the secretariat, Khamarbari, Japan Garden City, 60 foot road in Mirpur, Azimpur Maternity Hospital, Nayabazar in Puran Dhaka, Arambagh, Natun Bazar, Kalshi in Mirpur and Jatrabari.
In each vehicle, pasteurised liquid milk will be sold at Tk 60 per litre, beef at Tk 550 per kg, mutton at Tk 800 per kg, broiler chicken (dressed) at Tk 200 per kg and four pieces of eggs will be sold at Tk 30.
Prices of eggplant, cucumber on rise
The day before the start of Ramadan, the markets in Dhaka were crowded with customers. Prices of daily commodities have risen further. The eggplants were being sold at Tk 60 to 70 per kg which was Tk 30 to 40 even a few days ago. Similarly, the price of cucumbers has risen from Tk 40 to 80.
In Karwan Bazar, coriander leaves are being sold at Tk 180 to Tk 200 per kg, tomatoes at Tk 30, chillies at Tk 80 to Tk 100, chickpeas at Tk 70 to Tk 75, sugar at Tk 78, beef at Tk 650 and farm chicken eggs at Tk 33 per four pieces.
However, the prices are even higher in other markets. For instance, on Saturday, the sellers were asking Tk 700 per kg of beef.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Rabiul Islam, secretary-general of Bangladesh Meat Traders’ Association, said, “For the last three years the price of beef has not been fixed ahead of the month of Ramadan. Although the tariff per cow in the cattle market has been fixed at Tk 100, the lessee collects more than that at whim.”
According to him, production should be increased to control the price of meat. Besides, collection of rent at a fixed rate should be ensured and extortion should be controlled.