The nationwide blockade enforced by the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami heavily disrupted the movement of essential products and import-export goods across the country on Tuesday.
Businesspeople fear that the three-day blockade — following days of clashes involving ruling party supporters, opposition supporters and police — might cripple the entire supply chain and worsen economic woes already exacerbated by foreign exchange volatility and inflation.
Political tensions have escalated in recent weeks as the opposition parties are enforcing tougher programmes to compel the ruling Awami League-led government to resign and hold elections under a non-partisan neutral administration. The elections are likely to be held by the year-end or in early January next year.
Trade leaders warn that continuous hartals and blockades will further damage the economy and hurt consumers, as regular economic activities grind to a halt amid fear and uncertainty.
Dhaka to feel the blockade heat today
Traders at Karwan Bazar, one of the largest commodity markets in the capital, told The Business Standard that goods trucks from Chattogram and other districts arrived safely in Dhaka on Monday night or in the early hours of Tuesday, preventing a shortage of products in Dhaka's retail and wholesale markets.
But traders also said the impact of the blockade will be felt on Wednesday morning.
Ashraful Alam, a wholesale onion trader in Karwan Bazar, told The Business Standard, "The trucks that arrived here on Monday night did not charge extra fare. But vehicles arriving tonight may charge extra due to the blockade, unlike those that arrived last night."
Vegetable traders, however, said truck drivers are already charging Tk 2,000-2,500 extra per truck due to the blockade.
How is the blockade impacting export-import trade?
The Chittagong Port Authority has stated that the blockade has not adversely affected the port's operations and that goods are being unloaded from ships as usual. However, product deliveries have declined.
The blockade has significantly disrupted the transportation of goods, leading to a 30% increase in transportation fares from Chattogram Port. Importers and C&F agents are in a dilemma, struggling to receive goods from the port.
Amidst reports of clashes and arson attacks on vehicles across the country, road conditions have become unfavourable, making drivers hesitant to disembark. Under these circumstances, transport workers are exploiting the crisis by demanding additional fares.
Under normal circumstances, Chattogram Port handles the delivery of 3,000 to 4,000 containers and receives 5,000 to 6,000 trucks, covered vans, and prime movers every day.
However, the ongoing blockade has caused a transportation crisis, allowing transport workers to raise fares. For example, the fare for a covered van from Chattogram Port to Dhaka has increased from Tk 2,000 to Tk 7,000.
Rakibul Alam Chowdhury, vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told TBS that the blockade has significantly impacted the transportation of goods, making it increasingly challenging to procure vehicles for the delivery of raw materials from Chattogram Port and to transport finished garments to depots. Consequently, freight fares have surged by approximately 30%, posing a financial threat to garment manufacturers.
As the blockade is prolonged, the cost of transporting goods will continue to increase. The authorities, including the police, must take prompt measures to ensure the uninterrupted transportation of goods, he added.
Despite police assurances of smooth road traffic management, some drivers are demanding extra fares during the blockade, as stated by Chowdhury Zafar Ahmad, secretary general of the Bangladesh Truck Covered Van and Prime-mover Transport Owners Association, who expressed concerns about drivers' reluctance to operate vehicles during this period.
Port users say that the recent hartal has adversely impacted the nation's import and export trade, particularly port operations. They warn that an extended blockade could worsen the crisis and have urged the government to address the disruption to the transportation of goods in order to maintain the country's supply chain.
Khatunganj traders fear Tk300cr loss
Business transactions at Khatunganj, the country's main wholesale market for consumer goods, declined on the first day of the blockade.
Market traders and business association leaders reported that sales of products decreased significantly on Tuesday due to the very little movement of goods vehicles from the market to the districts and upazilas of the country.
Khatunganj, one of the country's largest wholesale markets which is home to about 3,500 businesses, including shops and warehouses, saw a 60-70% drop in sales on the first day of the blockade, resulting in a net loss of around Tk300 crore, according to traders.
"Currently, the Chaktai-Khatunganj market sees transactions of up to Tk1000-1500 crore a day. But on the first day of the blockade, those transactions dropped by 30%. If the blockade continues for three days, transactions in Greater Khatunganj will be at least Tk 1000 crore less," said Syed Sagir Ahmad of the Khatunganj Trade and Industries Association.
Azizul Haque, the owner of Khatunganj's pulse wholesaler Haque Trading, said that 250-300 trucks arrive in Chaktai-Khatunganj and Asadganj from Chittagong port and various districts of the country carrying consumer goods every day. At least 300 trucks and wheelbarrows transport the goods sold from here every day. However, due to the blockade, trucks from the districts and upazilas of the country are unable to enter the market, preventing us from supplying the products even when we have orders.
Traders have also complained of increased fares charged by goods vehicles during the blockade. For example, Balay Kumar Poddar, the proprietor of Grameen Banijalay, said that he had to pay Tk45,000 for transporting a truck of onions on Monday, up from the previous rate of Tk35,000-38,000.