The business of corrugated iron sheets, in some districts of the country, has been affected since the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic hit the country. The sales have even halved due to the pandemic in the last six months.
Traders in the sector said bank authorities are not implementing the interest waiver on loans for affected traders, which is essential for the recovery of the sector.
The corrugated iron sheet business in Brahmanbaria district, with about 200 corrugated iron sheet shops, has decreased by about 50% due to the pandemic, causing financial losses to traders in the sector, as low-income earners of lower and middle-class families have become unemployed. Moreover, new entrepreneurs have not appeared on the scene.
Though its market is usually booming throughout the year, the traders said the sales are normally highest in the month of Chaitra and Baishakh.
However, according to people concerned, all shops have been closed since March 26 following government directives to prevent novel coronavirus infections. After being closed for about three months, the shops reopened but there are no buyers on the market like before. Due to a lack of money in the hands of the people, the trade of corrugated iron has decreased by half.
Before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus the shops used to sell 450-500 bundles (1 bundle=72 feet) of sheets per month; they are now struggling to sell 100-150 bundles. Despite the low sales, the cost of operating the shops remains the same.
Mubarak Hossain, a resident of Suhilpur village in Brahmanbaria Sadar upazila, said he had been trying to build a new house since the outbreak. Unable to afford it, he planned to build a house with corrugated iron sheets, but due to the novel coronavirus his income has stopped and he was unable to build the house.
Priyatosh Ghosh, the proprietor of Radha-Madhab Traders, a retail company in Vijaynagar upazila of Brahmanbaria, said, "Before the outbreak, 20-30 bundles of corrugated iron sheets were sold every month. Now on average, not even 10 bundles are sold. The business situation is extremely miserable."
Reniz Rahman, the proprietor of City Builders in the Tanbazar area of the district town, said Covid-19 has halved his sales.
"I have been forced to lay off two permanent workers to reduce costs due to low sales. Now, I hire workers from outside on a contractual basis when needed," he added.
"We had to close the stores for about three months due to [the novel] coronavirus. There was talk of a waiver of bank interest but we have to pay the interest. If the situation does not improve, we will have a capital crisis soon," said Reniz Rahman.
On average, 400-500 bundles of corrugated iron sheets are sold at the wholesale shops of Brahmanbaria every month. And, in the retail shops, 150-200 bundles of corrugated iron are sold.
The wholesale shops are now selling corrugated iron sheets from Tk1,650 to Tk6,000 per bundle and Tk1,850 to Tk6,100 in retail shops.
Azizul Haque, president of the Brahmanbaria Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said the business of rod, cement and the corrugated iron sheets has halved due to the novel coronavirus. The number of financial losses will be calculated by talking to the affected traders, which is ongoing.
"The bank authorities are not implementing the interest waiver on loans for affected traders. Apart from this, the issue of giving loans at 4% interest is also not being considered by all except a few banks," he added.
Iqbal Hossain Bhuiyan, president of the Brahmanbaria Bankers' Forum and manager of the Brahmanbaria main branch of Sonali Bank Limited, said only the affected traders in the sector determined by the government would get incentive loans at the rate of 4%. And, if an affected trader comes to us and talks about the loss, his interest will be waived. No one has come to us.
Meanwhile, in Netrokona, the corrugated iron sheet business has faced a loss of Tk6 crore.
Most people have low incomes during the novel coronavirus situation, and the construction work of houses has decreased. The business is also decreasing. In the last five months, the business in the district has lost about Tk6 crore.
Tamim Ahmed, owner of Hashem Traders in Chhotabazar in the district headquarters, said the peak season of the business is before the onset of monsoon, but this year the shops were closed. As a result, all the corrugated iron sheet traders have suffered.
Subhash Bhadra, general secretary of the District Rod, Cement and Corrugated Business Association, said most people in the novel coronavirus situation have low incomes. Due to this, the construction work of houses is also decreasing. So businesses are also going down.
In Dinajpur city, the pandemic has caused the corrugated iron sheet business to slow.
Shahin Hossain, the proprietor of Munsipara Brothers Corporation, said the business has declined by about 35% this year compared to last year. Although there is no major loss in the business, the profit is not expected. He claimed that the same picture belongs to all the traders of the district.
Our Dinajpur and Netrokona correspondents have contributed to preparing the report.