A rumour-driven spiral in the price of salt after a surge in the prices of onion and rice has caused panic buying of the item across the country.
Salt price soared across the country on Tuesday following the start of panic buying of the essential item after a rumour spread that its price, too, might skyrocket like that of onion.
The surges in the prices of three essential commodities – onion, rice and salt – in a row heavily burdened the fixed-income group people.
Salt price skyrocketed up to Tk 120 a kilogram in different parts of the country as a rumour spread that an acute shortage of the item might ensue in the market.
Just a few days ago onion price topped Tk 250 and rice price soared by Tk 6-8 a kilogram. The surge in salt price sent a chill of worry through the country’s poor people.
While the price of onion has started to decrease in the market, the commodity was still selling at exorbitant Tk 180 a kilogram and rice price remained high.
After the rumour about a likely price hike of salt spread in different parts of the country including Dhaka on Monday night, consumers rushed to outlets and markets on Tuesday morning for buying the item in large quantities.
The government, however, said that there was no possibility of any increase in the price of salt as the stock of the item was sufficient in the country.
A dishonest group was spreading the misleading information on the price and stock of salt, it said.
The government in a press note warned that stern actions would be taken against those involved in spreading rumours about salt or any other issues on social media or by any other means.
The press note issued by the Press Information Department said that a quarter was involved in spreading rumours in a planned way.
Traders said that general groceries and super shops in the city started facing huge crowds for salt from Tuesday morning and most of the shops went out of stock by the evening.
‘We are tired of dealing with the pressure of buyers. We have been facing huge crowds of people since the morning,’ Zakir Hossain, a trader at Karwan Bazar, told New Age.
He said that almost all the shops at Karwan Bazar had been facing huge crowds of buyers but they were selling salt at maximum retail prices set by the companies.
People made long queues in front of shops in Motijheel in the city for salt and many of them alleged that they bought the item at Tk 50 a kilogram although the company rate was Tk 35 a kilo.
Most of the small groceries in the city went out of the salt stock by Tuesday noon as each of the people was buying three to four kilos, such shop owners said.
A number of consumers said that salt went out of stock in many super shops, too, in the city due to the panic buying.
Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation chairman Md Mostaque Hassan said that there was no shortage of salt in the country, rather the stock of the item was much higher than the demand.
He requested the consumers not to be misled by rumours of any dishonest group and said that the current stock of salt in the country was 6.5 lakh tonnes while the national monthly demand was one lakh tonne.
The BSCIC chairman claimed that an unholy syndicate was trying to reap benefits by spreading misleading information through online media.
Commerce minister Tipu Munshi said that the rumour about salt price might be spread by a quarter of dishonest businesses.
They wanted to gain benefit through spreading rumour over salt price and stock, he said at a press briefing at the ministry.
The commerce minister also said that the price of onion started to come down and it would be at a reasonable level within two or three days.
The first batch of onions from Egypt would come to the country on Wednesday night by air and then one air cargo of onions would come to the country from Egypt and Turkey every day for a few days, he added.
Tipu munshi said that the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh would buy all the onions imported by the S Alam Group by air and then these would be sold in the open market at a subsidised rate.
‘We are in a big trouble with onion price. The Indian commerce minister assured that they would lift the export ban on or after 24 October, but they do not keep their promise,’ he said.
The minister said that the government would take initiatives to achieve self-sufficiency in producing onion in the country.
‘We are thinking of imposing duty on onion imports during the peak season so that our farmers can get reasonable prices of their produces,’ Tipu Munshi said.
If the growers get a good price they would be encouraged to produce more onions, he added.
Quoting local people, the New Age Staff Correspondent in Sylhet reported that a dishonest group of traders started to spread a rumour in the city and elsewhere in the division since about 8:00pm on Monday that a serious crisis of salt had occurred in the country.
Hearing the rumour, the general consumers started to throng the grocery shops and the shopkeepers capitalising on the rumour started to sell the commodity at prices as they wished.
Salt was selling from Tk 60 to Tk 120 in the previous night in and around the city, Faruk Ahmad, a businessman in Kalighat area, said.
The consumer rights protection agency on Tuesday conducted drives in various parts of Sylhet to check the price rise.
The agency’s divisional assistant director Md Fayzullah conducted a drive at about 10:30am in Shahi Eidgah, Kazitala and Ambarkhana areas in the city and fined five shopkeepers Tk 41,000 for charging excessive price of salt from the consumers.
When contacted, the agency’s district assistant director Zahangir Alam told New Age that they conducted another drive in Shah Paran area in the morning and they also fined five shops Tk 21,500 on charge of selling salt at Tk 60 to Tk 80.
Besides, the police had seized two rickshaw-vans laden with 1,000 kilograms of salt at Kalighat, where the city’s main wholesale market of essential commodities is located, at about 10:00pm on Monday.
An executive magistrate fined another shopkeeper Tk 45,000 for selling salt at exorbitant price, court sources said.
Habiganj district administration’s executive magistrate Yasin Arafat Rana fined two shopkeepers different amounts of money and jailed another two for selling salt in exorbitant price, sources in the Habiganj deputy commissioner office said.
The New Age correspondents in Narayanganj reported that the Sadar police detained a youth named Abdul Karim from a shop at NItaiganj of Narayanganj city for spreading rumour of salt price hike standing in front of the shop as well as for posting facebook status, said Sadar police station officer-in-charge Asaduzzaman.
In Natore, Singra upzila nirbahi officer Sushanta Kumar Mahato said that a mobile court led by him fined two grocers – Sushil Saha, 45, and Manik Hossain, 40 – of the upazila town Tk 8,000 for selling salt at higher prices than the normal.
In Madaripur, police officials including district additional superintendent Badrul Alam, using public announcement system, announced in the district town on Tuesday afternoon not to be confused with the rumour of salt price hike.
In Jhalokathi, the district administration in a press briefing also made the same call to the people.
In Kishoreganj, Sonali Store owner Arjun Saha and Sumon Store owner Md Sumon were detained from their business establishments in Bara Bazar area of the district town by a team from the administration led by additional deputy commissioner Md Abdullah Al Maswood.
Ruling Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader on Tuesday said that a vested quarter was trying to take political advantage spreading rumors and the quieter was involved in spreading the latest rumor of salt price hike.
Addressing a press conference at the AL president political office at Dhanmondi, Obaidul, also road transport and bridges minister, said that the opposition had already raised the demand for an early election and were trying to create social unrest with such rumors.
He said that the government would take legal action against the people involved in spreading such rumors as it was investigating the matter.
Consumers crowd a shop on weekly holiday at Karwan Bazar in Dhaka on Tuesday after salt crisis rumour swept the capital. — Indrajit Kumer Ghosh