The customs have found a gross mismatch between the assessed import value and the ruling market prices of onion.
The average price of a kilogram of onion currently stands at Tk 30 as per the customs-assessed value, but the item was being sold at Tk 230 at the retail level on Sunday.
Analysing the July-October import data, it has been found that some 2,51,826 tonnes of onion valued at Tk 7.59 billion were imported through different customs ports.
Of the total shipments, some 2,32,000 tonnes came from India and the rest from countries like Myanmar, Thailand and Egypt.
Talking to the FE, customs officials said some onion entered Bangladesh even after the ban imposed by India on September 29 last.
"The letters of credit (L/Cs) for importing those onions were opened before imposing the restrictions by India.
However, an estimated 9,500 tonnes came from India in October. As per the customs-assessed value, per-kilo onion cost was Tk 74 at that time.
On the other hand, some 1,73,000 tonnes of onion were imported from Myanmar from July 01 to October 30. The average import cost was Tk 42.83 per kg.
More than 13,000 tonnes of onions were brought in from Myanmar in October alone.
From Thailand, some 23,256 tonnes were imported during the July-October period this year.
However, the per-kilo onion imported from Thailand cost Tk 133.24.
Customs data shows 5,07000 tonnes of onion were imported from July 01 to November 13 of the fiscal year 2018-19.
The lower import has created a sort of distortion in the market, market insiders said.
In fiscal year 2018-19, some 1.1 million tonnes of onion entered Bangladesh against 0.9 million imported during the corresponding period of the preceding year.
The daily domestic consumption of the essential vegetable is approximately 6,575 tonnes.
Talking to the FE, Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) president Mr. Golam Rahman said crisis surfaced after the Indian ban, but some profiteers are cashing in on it.
On an average, he said, some 2,000 to 3,000 tonnes of onion usually come from India daily, but there has been no shipment of the item since the ban came into force.
The open market mechanism of the government has failed to work properly, Mr Hossain observed.
The government should have started the process of importing onion much earlier sensing the possible crisis, he cited.
Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, additional research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said the government could have handled the situation better by providing market and import-related information.
It is true that there is a supply gap and that creates panic among both sellers and buyers of the commodity, he added.
Mr Moazzem smelt price manipulation by importers, not by retailers, in the domestic market.
Mahfuzul Hoque Shah, a leader of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry, accused the commerce ministry of its delay in taking action to control onion prices.
"Now, the ministry is requesting the big business to import the commodity which should have been done much earlier sensing the crisis," he said.
Some 7,41,720.57 tonnes of onion worth Tk 13.57 billion have come from some ten countries from January to September. Of them, India alone exported 7,39,071 tonnes worth Tk 13.45 billion and Myanmar 2,439 tonnes worth Tk 105 million.