Onion importers say they are not responsible for the onion price hike in the country. They blame middlemen for manipulating price and the government for its failure in handling the situation.
Some importers said this during interrogation by Customs Intelligence and the Investigation Directorate (CIID) of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) on Monday.
The CIID interrogated ten onion importers for allegedly manipulating onion prices in the local market.
Sources at the CIID said the importers claimed they had no onion reserve in stock because they did not have any scope to store onions. When onions come from India, they are shipped directly to different places in the country within two to three days.
Several onion importers told The Business Standard that importers alone cannot control the onion market. The entire supply system is responsible for this crisis.
Abdul Awal, the proprietor of Bishal Enterprise who was interrogated by the CIID, told The Business Standard, "Importers like us have no role in raising onion prices."
"We do not hold on to onion consignments for more than one or two days. We sell them as soon as possible for a certain profit. It is the responsibility of the government to control prices," said Awal
Onion importers do not make a profit of more than 40-50 paisa per kg, Abdul Awal added.
At the end of the interrogation, the director general of the CIID, Dr Shahidul Islam, said, "We are trying to get information on who imported the onions, where they were sold, and what the price was.
"We are trying to find out how many tonnes of onions they have in stock now," Said Shahidul Islam.
In response to a question on whether such interrogation will cause onion importers to panic, he said, "As our manpower is limited we have called them to Dhaka. We are approaching them cordially. There is no chance of creating panic."
Shahidul Islam said, "Thirteen businessmen were called-in today. Ten of them have submitted their documents to customs intelligence. The other 37 businessmen will come tomorrow. We can reach a decision after taking to them today and tomorrow."
In a bid to identify unscrupulous traders responsible for the recent onion price manipulation, the government has so far collected information on 341 businessmen who imported onions from India between August 15 and November 18, after onion prices peaked in that country.
The government has directed the Customs Intelligence department of the National Board of Revenue and the Tariff Commission to submit reports on the amount of onions imported, the import price and the selling price over the last few weeks.
The BR has asked a number of business entities to provide further information about the sale of onions, based on the information of the NBR database. The traders will be interrogated as there is a significant discrepancy between the import price and the selling price.
The Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate (CIID) says that in the three months after the onion price hike in India, Bangladeshi traders imported 167,806 tonnes of onions, worth Tk660 crore, through eight land ports.
According to the invoices of the traders, in the last three months, the average price of imported onions was Tk39.33 per kg. However, the onions were sold for Tk100, and in some cases the price exceeded Tk200 per kg.
Dr Shahidul Islam said, "We are investigating whether or not the traders sold the onions after buying them cheaply. The importers will also be interrogated."