Authorities have found irregularities in storing and packaging of rice by Square Group and Akij Group, and a case has been filed against the former, Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder said.
Speaking to journalists at the secretariat, the minister alleged that some corporate houses are involved in controlling the rice market amid soaring prices of the commodity.
Square and Akij Groups' officials did not respond to requests by The Business Standard for comment on the allegations.
The minister said, "A drive was conducted at a warehouse owned by Square in Dinajpur, where they have a mill. According to [government] policy, a warehouse of a mill can be used to store up to three times the fortnightly production capacity of the mill. A portion of the goods will go to market, a portion will be in production and another portion will be fully in stock.
"There was an additional 5,000 tonnes of goods at the warehouse than the mandated capacity. The warehouse has been sealed and they've been sued."
Dinajpur District Food Controller Kamal Hossain told TBS, "We carried out raids in 20 mills in several upazilas of Dinajpur on Tuesday night."
He said apart from Square's warehouse, irregularities were found at a separate mill and it was fined Tk20,000.
Parvez Saiful Islam, chief operating officer of Square Food and Beverage Ltd, did not respond to calls by TBS for his comment on the allegations.
Speaking about irregularities by Akij Group, Sadhan Chandra alleged, "Akij Group has rented two mills in Mahadevpur. If an organisation rents a mill, they will have to pack rice with the mill's name. We have confiscated rice sacks with Akij Group's name from one of the rented mills."
Akij Group officials could not be reached for their comments on the allegations.
The food minister said, "Six companies are selling rice in packets. They are packing rice priced at Tk60-65 per kg and selling those at Tk80-90. They are paying millers in advance. Even providing them with bags in advance in areas including Naogaon, and Dinajpur. We are closing them down with the help of deputy commissioners."
Regarding instability in the rice market, he alleged that paddy sourcing by corporate companies at high prices increased the competition.
However, industry insiders say that it is not possible for business groups to control the market.
The groups, in total, are marketing a total of 6-7 lakh tonnes of rice in packets, whereas their total production is nearly 4 crore tonnes, said FH Ansarey, managing director & CEO of ACI Agribusinesses.
"There is no chance of them influencing the market with such a small amount," he said.
Meanwhile, Pran RFL Director (Marketing) Kamruzzaman Kamal said, "The inspection team did not find any problem in Pran's mill in Dinajpur. We are within the rules."
Produce, sell own rice only
Sadhan Chandra Majumder said authorities are discussing banning companies from buying rice from the local market and selling those in their own branded packets.
He said, "If they have their own mills, they can market packet rice. But we will not let them source it from the market and then market it."
On the issue of stockpiling across the country, the food minister said, "Some who have never traded rice or have food grain licences are stockpiling paddy or rice."
Paddy stockpiled were even found in brickfields and under the possession of a school teacher, he added.
"We have instructed the divisional commissioners and deputy commissioners to determine the extent of the loss of paddy in natural disasters. We will sit with the prime minister and decide future steps. We do not have accurate information on demand and production. We are expecting a report on this within seven days," he said.
"If the production is found low, we will decide to import," the minister said and added that rice would be imported by reducing taxes if necessary to break the syndicate.
Crackdown on rice hoarding
Meanwhile, irregularities were found in several places across the country, including Dhaka, during a nationwide drive against rice hoarders. The Consumer Rights Protection Department has fined a trader Tk50,000 for having two prices on the same receipt in a rice warehouse at Taiyeba Rice Agency in Mirpur, Dhaka.
In Anandabazar of Brahmanmbaria, Abul Khair Enterprise was fined Tk10,000 for storing rice in plastic bags during a raid on rice shops. Another shop Shamim Enterprise was fined Tk20,000 for stocking rice for over a month.
Besides, five companies in Sylhet and three companies in Cumilla were fined for selling rice at exorbitant prices.