A day after the Indian government restricted the export of all varieties of onion, the prices of the popular kitchen item have almost doubled in Dhaka’s kitchen markets.
“The export of all varieties of onion is prohibited with immediate effect,” according to a notification of the Indian Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) released on Monday.
Talking to UNB, consumers alleged that unscrupulous businesses have increased the prices after the decision by India as it has been the main source of onion import for Bangladesh.
Habibur Rahman, a resident of Bangshal in Old Dhaka, said he bought one kg imported onion at Tk 80 on Tuesday which was Tk 40 on Sunday. Local onions are selling at Tk100 per kg, he added.
“When India made the announcement, unscrupulous traders here grabbed the chance to raise the prices to make a quick buck. Last year, the traders had also raised the prices irrationally. So, the public had to suffer as no action was taken against them,” he added.
Abul Kalam Azad, a resident of Dhanmondi area, expressed anger saying, “India banned onion export just a few hours after hilsa shipment had reached there from Bangladesh on Tuesday.”
The Bangladesh government decided to send 1,475 tonnes of hilsa to India as a goodwill gesture on the occasion of Durga Puja, an annual Hindu festival.
“The reason behind the export ban they’re showing is the shortage of onions in their domestic markets. We experienced the same situation last year when the prices of the cooking ingredient rose to more than Tk 300 per kg here after India had stopped onion export. Yet, we survived, but our farmers had to face losses as it resumed exporting onions when our local onions started arriving in the market. So, it’s better for us to be self-sufficient!” Azad added.
Anisur Rahman, a shopkeeper at Jatrabari, said they buy onions from the wholesale market. So, they’ve nothing to do. “The wholesalers, especially those in Khatunganj of Chattogram and Shymbazar of Dhaka, played a dirty role behind it. Today, I bought onions at a higher price compared to the previous days. So, we also sell at high prices,” he added.
Talking to UNB, Mohammad Hafiz Uddin, an importer of the country's biggest wholesale market Shyambazar, said some traders increased the onion prices due to increased demand among customers because many consumers are stocking onions after hearing the news of onion export ban by India.
“Still, there’re huge onions in the market. Huge onions have also been produced in the country this year. So, there’s no possibility of a price hike like the previous year,” he said.
Hafiz said huge imported onions are there in the market. “So, why’s this price hike?
“Some traders increased its price by Tk20-30 per kg of imported onion compared to Monday. Today, we sold each kg of imported onion at Tk55-60 while the local one up to Tk70 per kg. I think the price will become stable by the next month,” he added.
Source said India exported $198 million of onions during the April-June period of FY21 and $440 million during the entire 2019-20. Bangladesh, Malaysia, the UAE and Sri Lanka are the top importers of Indian onions.
Open market sale
Commerce Ministry source said the government has decided to import one lakh tonnes of onion as soon as possible to rein in the skyrocketing prices in the local markets.
Besides, Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) started open market sale (OMS) through trucks from Sunday, offering it at Tk 30 per kg.
Also read: India bans export of onions again
Drives against price hike
Md Abdul Jabbar Mondol, Assistant Director at the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection, Ministry of Commerce, told UNB that they conducted drives in different markets, including Shyambazar, Kawranbazar and Mohammadpur areas to control the price hike.
“Conducting the drives in the areas an amount of Tk 2,28,000 was realized as fine on Tuesday. We’ll continue it so that unscrupulous businessmen can’t make extra profit. Some unscrupulous traders hiked the prices illogically. They won’t get this chance in the future,” he added.
Jabbar Mondol said there are huge onions in the country. “So, there’ll be no price hike like the previous year.”
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has requested the Indian government to withdraw the ban imposed on onion export as soon as possible, keeping the import flow of onion from India uninterrupted.
Bangladesh expects a positive outcome in this regard soon.
What happened last year?
Bangladesh saw a record hike in onion prices after India banned its export on September 29 last year.
Onions witnessed a 557.8 percent year-on-year rise, TCB said. The record jump was made in only two months after the Indian export ban. Each kg of the bulb cost about Tk 30 before the ban.
According to TCB data, the price of local onion increased by 542.86 percent while that of imported one by 572.73 in November last year compared to the corresponding period of the previous year.
A market analysis showed that the price hike, which stemmed from the ban India slapped on the export, is higher than the TCB estimate.
According to the Commerce Ministry, the annual demand for onion in Bangladesh ranges between 2.2 and 2.5 million tonnes. Although the country’s own annual production has risen, so has the amount imported over the last decade.
Commerce Ministry figures show the amount imported was hardly 0.4 million tons in FY09, but had touched up to 1.1 million tons in recent years.
The government will strengthen its monitoring over unfit river vessels to put an end to accidents on waterways, said State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury.
“Unskilled sailing masters and lack of fitness are the main reasons for naval accidents...we’ve taken a zero-tolerance policy against unfit ships. Any allegation of providing fitness certificates to unfit vehicles will be acted upon immediately,” he said in an interview with UNB.
The state minister also said the design of vessels, whether carrying passengers or goods, must fully comply with instructions.
“We’ve already established two training institutes in Madaripur and Barishal, and they’ve already been given a ship for training. Besides, we’ve taken a project called ‘Vessel Traffic System’ on behalf of BIWTA,” Khalid Mahmud added.
He mentioned that the said system can be used to monitor the condition of ships at home.
Khalid Mahmud said the ministry is taking measures to modernise various ports, including extending the ones in Barishal, Chandpur and Dhaka.
“We’re trying to bring the operating ferry boats of Sadarghat area under a planned programme. Thousands of boats sail here and there with around 25,000 people getting involved there. We’re thinking of taking alternative measures,” Khalid Mahmud said, adding, “These boats are part of Dhaka’s heritage which shouldn’t be lost.”
He said a tender process is underway for implementing a dredging project involving Tk 3,500 crore for the waterway from Chattogram to Dhaka to maintain the navigability of the river. “We’re working to restore navigability by dredging 53 rivers.”
On Dhaka-Barisal route, he said, they have already taken steps to make it safer. “By inspecting these areas, I’m identifying what the problems are. I’ve taken steps to address those.”
The state minister also said there are plans to increase regional connectivity with Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
He noted that another project involving Tk 850 crore has been taken to protect the rivers around Dhaka. “We’ve sent it to the Planning Commission again as a revised project worth about Tk 2,500 crore. If this project is passed, it’ll not only save the rivers around Dhaka but will also create a pleasant environment for all.”
Emerging like a breath of fresh air in the concrete jungle of Dhaka, Hatirjheel has been serving since its opening as a prime recreational spot for the millions who feed off the capital on a daily basis.
However, its present state is causing great discomfort to locals and visitors due as unabated pollution threatens to overwhelm what for so many is an urban oasis.
VIsiting Hatirjheel and surrounding spots 6 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the water in the lake was seen discolored at places and some of the visitors complained about odor pollution. Unplanned waste disposal was a common sight as well.
Naim, one of the locals and the owner of a shop near Gudaraghat area adjacent to Hatirjheel lake told UNB that the degradation in water quality predates the pandemic, and goes right back to the unveiling.
“The beauty of Hatirjheel is fading away for improper waste mismanagement and it is bad for the business too,” he said.
Currently, Hatirjheel serves as one of the key routes to travel for people residing in Rampura, Mahanagar project, Madhubag, Begunbari, Kunipara, and Merul Badda area. Since 2015, circular bus service and water taxi service from 2016 has been functioning as an essential means for commuters.
One of the passengers of the water taxi, Harun Ahmed, who was traveling to Rampura said in the rainy season the stench of water at places becomes unbearable.
Discussing the pressing issue of mismanagement and pollution in Hatirjheel, Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP) General Secretary and a faculty of Department of Urban & Regional Planning at Jahangirnagar University Adil Mohammed Khan said this can serve as a lesson for the future.
“Although it started as an aesthetic project to develop the Hatirjheel area that was in dire condition before, the Hatirjheel project cannot serve as drainage support, it wasn’t meant to be that ever,” he told UNB.
He highlighted that one of the key reasons behind the sorry state of lakewater and pollution is the dumping of wastes through underwater sewerage lines.
“There are a number of sewerage connections underwater that dump garbage directly in the lakewater. As long as that continues, the situation will not improve,” the BIP General Secretary told UNB.
He also drew attention to DNCC Mayor Atiqul Islam’s recent comment on ‘misplanned’ Hatirjheel project and emphasised the proper execution.
“You see, the original plan which was approved; it was not properly designed considering the management in adjacent areas. All the stakeholders should learn from mistakes made in this project and correct them in future endeavors," he told UNB.
He also spoke about alternate methods of waste disposal and noted why the authorities should double down against improper planning.
“Most of the sewage lines that are disposing of waste in Hatirjheel are illegal. When you plan to erect a building you need to include a proper waste management system in design. But the authorities tend to look the other way in some cases, this practice should be stopped entirely,” he said.
Adil Mohammed Khan also expressed skepticism over the activities of those who are responsible to overlook the maintenance of the project. “They should speed up their effort to save the project.”
Experts urged the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk), city corporation authorities and other stakeholders to come to a swift and sustainable solution to the crisis.
Rajuk Chief Engineer and Hatirjheel Project Director ASM Raihanul Ferdous explained that due to Covid-19 pandemic, an undergoing project to purify the lake water had to be halted.
“The water purification project was functioning in an early stage but our Australian and Chinese experts have left due to Covid-19,” he told UNB.
He also assured that as soon as the situation improves the water purification process will resume as before.
The 311-acre project area was partially opened on January 2, 2013. Since then the site has drawn huge crowds becoming one of the gathering hubs for the city people, especially on the weekend and festivals.
The project, kicked off in July 2007, was originally scheduled to be completed by December 2010 but it was extended several times.
The government has planned to make the tariff of solar-run irrigation pumps equal to that of the grid electricity-run irrigation ones.
According to official sources, the consumers of solar-run irrigation pumps have to pay about Tk 17.73 per unit while that of grid electricity-run pumps Tk 4.16 per unit.
“So, there’s a gap of Tk 13.57 per unit which creates a big impediment to the government move to convert diesel-run irrigation pumps into solar-run irrigation systems,” said a top official at the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (Sreda).
However, Sreda chairman Mohammad Alauddin, also an additional secretary to Power Division, said there has been no final decision yet.
“Still, Sreda, other power distribution bodies and agencies have been working on it,” he told UNB.
Official sources said a comparative study on the issue found that if a power distribution company is provided with Tk 0.014 (1.4 paisa) as financial support to the utilities, the project on solar-run irrigation pumps could be easily implemented across the country.
They said the government’s new initiative to strike the balance between the tariff of solar power and grid power is part of its move to replace the diesel-run irrigation pumps with solar-powered ones throughout the country.
According to them, there are some 1.55 million irrigation pumps across the country and 1.25 million of them are diesel-run pumps. For these diesel-run pumps, the government has to import diesel worth about Tk 4,500 crore annually.
The government initiated a plan to replace some 100,000 diesel-operated irrigation pumps in the first phase with solar-powered ones as part of the government’s policy initiative to increase the use of solar power and reduce the consumption of fossil fuel for irrigation pump operation.
As per the initiative, Sreda moved to implement a pilot project in Kushtia in this regard to have a technical and financial analysis of the pump replacement project.
Sreda officials said irrigation through solar-powered pumps initially seemed to be costlier. “But in the final calculation, it might be found to be cost-effective and more economic than diesel-run one,” he mentioned.
Other officials said it was found in different studies that if the diesel-run pumps are replaced with solar irrigation ones, it will bring huge benefits for the country.
Especially, they said, solar pumps will reduce the use of about 50 percent of water now the farmers are lifting for irrigation.
Explaining the matter, they said, when farmers use a solar pump for irrigation, they normally try to lift 20 percent less water compared to the diesel-pump use.
In the solar irrigation process, the water supply to the field will be through underground plastic pipes instead of conventional use of open canals, they mentioned.
According to them, such a process will reduce another 30 percent as there will be no evaporation and sucking of water by soil.
Siddique Zobair, a former member of Sreda, said it was found in the study that when an open canal is used for irrigation, some 30 percent water is misused due to evaporation and sucking by soil.
So, he said, when all the positive things are considered, irrigation pumps are cost-effective and economic ones.
The Sreda officials also said one solar-run irrigation pump normally covers an area equivalent to one covered by four diesel-run irrigation pumps.
“So, if we install 100,000 solar-run irrigation pumps, it’ll ultimately replace 400,000 diesel-run irrigation pumps,” said one of the officials, preferring not to be named.
He said there were 1.35 million diesel-run irrigation pumps across the country and 1,350 have been replaced with solar-run ones.
The government has decided to gradually suspend providing corona treatment from 12 dedicated Covid-19 hospitals as the number of corona patients there has marked a sharp fall in the last few weeks.
Health experts, however, fear that it will be a premature decision which can send out a wrong message among people already reluctant about the pandemic and make them more reckless to flout social distancing and health safety guidelines amid a warning that Bangladesh may witness the second wave of the deadly virus in the coming days.
Stating that there is a growing tendency among people to receive treatment for corona at home, they think the government should take steps to encourage such patients to go to hospitals and isolation centres to further rein in the corona spread and fatality rate instead of reducing the number of Covid-19 hospitals.
Contacted, Health Secretary Md Abdul Mannan said they have decided to gradually bring down the number of dedicated Covid hospitals due to the poor presence of patients there.
He said they have already suspended coronavirus treatment at Dhaka's Holy Family Red Crescent Medical College Hospital. “We’ve to spend huge money on the dedicated Covid hospitals as several hundred doctors are engaged with them. But the number of patients has dropped significantly at many such hospitals. So, it’s not justified to run all the Covid hospitals now,” he said.
He said 172 doctors are engaged with Bashundhara Covid Hospital but only 14 patients are receiving treatment there. “So, we can now close this makeshift hospital.”
The health secretary, however, said they will gradually suspend the operation of Covid hospitals observing the corona situation in the country.
Farid Hossain Miah, director (hospitals and clinics) at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said they recently sent a list of 12 dedicated Covid hospitals out of 64 in eight divisions to the Health Ministry for suspending their operation.
The hospitals include Holy Family Hospital, Dhaka Mahanagar Hospital, Lalkuthi MA O Shishu Kalyan Kendro, Bashundhara Covid Hospital, Infectious Disease Hospital at Mohakhali, Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases (BITID), Chattogram, Chattogram Railway Hospital, Field Hospital, Chattogram and four others both in Dhaka and Chattogram.
“We’ve already shut the corona unit at Holy Family Hospital and we’re waiting for approval to suspend operation at 11 other hospitals,” Farid said.
He also said they are also planning to gradually shut down the corona units at those hospitals treating both Covid and non-Covid patients to facilitate the non-corona patients.
Contacted, Prof Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19, said people are now reluctant to undergo tests and also receive treatment at hospitals due to their lack of ‘confidence’ in public health services as well as awareness and seriousness about the diseases.
He also said people are now not taking the virus seriously as the government downplayed the situation in various ways. “People are not getting information about the exact situation as the government stopped briefing on the corona situation without any reason.”
As people know 85 percent corona patients can recover by receiving treatment at home, the virologist said they are not coming to hospitals. “Doctors are saying people are now coming to hospitals when their conditions get critical. “If the Covid hospitals are now closed, it’ll again send out a negative message to people. So, instead of reducing the Covid hospitals, the government should take steps to inspire people to come to the hospitals.”
Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the DGHS, said the government needs a proper projection and assessment of the situation before suspending operation at the Covid hospitals.
“Many experts are saying the situation may deteriorate in the days to come and Bangladesh may witness the second wave of the corona infection. We need a contingency plan so that we can handle any emerging situation. If we close down the hospitals without any projection and plan, we may have to pay a price when the situation will aggravate,” he observed.
Dr Be-Nazir said it is fact that people have some sort of apathy to getting admitted to hospitals due to various scams, poor and unhealthy condition of many hospitals, mismanagement, misinformation and doctors’ callousness to handle the corona patients. “The government should pursue people to change such a negative attitude.”
Also read: Coronavirus: Global death toll 919,081
He said the government can reduce the number of doctors if the number of patients declines at the Covid hospitals. “But still we’re not in a position to suspend operation of the Covid hospitals.”
The health expert said the growing tendency of patients to avoid hospitals is weakening the government’s efforts to control the corona situation.
“First of all, if corona patients stay home, they don’t maintain proper isolation and there’s a chance that their relatives may get infected by them in various ways. Secondly, since they stay home they can’t assess their situation and oxygen saturation level. But the fall in saturation level may affect the patients’ kidneys and livers, especially those who have comorbidities. So, when they’re taken to hospitals at the last stage, doctors can’t save many of them. This is the reason why we’re seeing a high mortality rate though the infection rate has declined,” he added.
Prof Muzaherul Huq, a former adviser to WHO South-East Asia region, said Bangladesh is still in the list of the countries where corona infection may increase again.
“So, I think we should take more time to come to a decision to suspend operation at the Covid hospitals since there’s a global projection that the infection may increase here. We should encourage people who are above 40 with underlying health condition to go to hospitals as the death rate among this age group is very high,” he observed.