The parliamentary standing committee on the commerce ministry found no syndicate behind the abnormal surge in onion prices and said the importers were selling onion without making any profit.
The Jatiya Sangsad (JS) committee said that onion prices would not come under control unless the new local varieties arrive in the market and the country becomes self-sufficient. Also the new source countries for import other than India may help.
The import price of onion is Tk 250 per kg by air and Tk 37.50 by sea. The price hits Tk 42.50 after VAT payment. The TCB has been selling it at Tk 42.50 per kg without any profit, the committee said.
Terming the volatile situation in the onion market as a temporary one that will come under control very soon, the committee also blamed media reports for the price surge.
The standing committee also sees the situation as positive that has opened the window of opportunity to make the country self sufficient in onion production.
It advised to take lessons from the mistake like failure to determine the actual demand, production and imports much earlier to avoid the debacle and take steps to lessen dependence on India.
It said the commerce ministry has taken enough steps to control the onion price.
The committee made the observations at a press briefing on the present commodity market situation, especially the onion market after holding the sixth meeting of the committee at the media centre of parliament.
Committee Chairman Tofail Ahmed said that had there been an estimate of demand, production and import position, such a debacle could be avoided. He mentioned that 60 per cent of the onion is produced locally and 40 per cent imported. Of this total import, 90 per cent is from India, he added.
But India too stopped export in September due to less production and started import, said Tofail.
"It takes only six days to import onion from India against 5/6 months required to procure it from Egypt and two months from Turkey. The situation is a temporary one and the price will come under purchasing power very soon," said Tofail. This crisis will make Bangladesh an onion exporting country within two years as happened in cow import.
"We do not think there is anything like syndicate. Businesses are our friends and they are selling onion without making profit. We cannot control the price by arresting and harassing them," he said.
He also said it is not possible to control the middlemen in case of volatile vegetable price as those traders have to pay tolls and rents at various points during transportation. Besides, people's purchasing power has also increased, he added.
Blaming the media and citizens, he said whenever the rice price goes up, the government is blamed and the same allegation comes when the price is less. He said he sees people buying commodities from super shops even without asking the price.
In answering questions why there was no estimation about onion, Mr Tofail said Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) could not do this as India stopped export suddenly.
The price hike is a normal and common phenomenon across the world, he said.
He said the landing charge of onion which is imported by air is Tk 250 a kg. But the government is giving it at Tk 45.
Regarding the lesson that was not learnt from the previous volatility in onion price in 2017 when Mr Tofail was the commerce minister, the JS body chairman said the price was never that much high.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said that the record shows at least 0.2 million tonnes of onion are imported between September and October. But only 25,000 tonnes were imported in the corresponding period this year creating a monthly shortfall of 75,000 tonnes.
He again said India violated its promise where it committed to lift the ban by the end of September.
He told the FE the actual stock could not be ascertained. Only it could be said that 60,000 tonnes were in the pipeline that would be imported.
"Only local onions that will come to the market by December and import from Egypt and Uzbekistan, the landing price of which will be Tk 45, may help reduce the price," said the minister.
Now 600 TCB trucks are selling onions. But the TCB cannot give this for all, said the minister.
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