Anisul Islam, a private job holder, has come to buy 10kg edible salt from Yasin General Traders located behind the Karwan Bazar kitchen market. The shopkeeper has sold it at the current market price – Tk35 per kg.
Within moments, seven or eight more customers come there, all ordering the same item. Some ask for 3kg, some for 5kg, while a few order 10kg.
"Wait, wait, there is no salt crisis. I have 500 packets of salt in my stock. No reason to panic. All of you will get salt as per your orders," the seller said in a voice which sounded like he was yelling.
But who is there to listen to his words of assurance? Within a short time, "worried" buyers lose their patience. "I heard salt is going to be out of stock in the market soon. So, I have bought 10kg at one go," a worried Anisul tells The Business Standard.
Where have you heard about the crisis? we ask him.
"On Facebook," he replies.
Tuesday was a weekly holiday at Karwan Bazar. Even then, grocery shops in the small alley at the back of the market were open. Around 70 people thronged those shops, all of whom were desperate about buying salt.
But all sellers were seen selling the item at Tk35 a kg as salt prices did not jerk up in the capital.
Habibur Rahman, a seller at Noakhali Traders, said the news about a salt crisis has been a rumour all along. "Driven by fake news, people are in a rush to buy salt. But we are keeping to the price that is written on the packet."
The seller mentioned that executive magistrates of the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection had warned shop owners and sellers on Tuesday morning not to sell salt to customers at enhanced prices.
At Segunbagicha kitchen market, this correspondent observed that packaged salt was selling for Tk35 per kg. But sellers were not allowing agitated people, driven by rumours, to buy more than one or two kg each.
However, a few sellers at Mirpur-14 were learnt to have tried selling the kitchen item at Tk70 to Tk80 per kg, while some others deliberately reduced salt sales in the market with the motive of earning more profits if the crisis took shape in reality.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Industries, through issuing a press release, on Tuesday assured people that the country faces no crisis in the supply of edible salt at present.
The country has over 6.5 lakh tonnes of salt in reserve. Of the amount, more than four lakh tonnes lie with salt farmers in Cox's Bazar and Chattogram and around 2.5 lakh tonnes of salt are at different mills across the country, said the ministry.
At the same time, there is a sufficient stock of salt available with dealers, wholesalers and retailers of various companies across the country. Besides, the season of salt production started from November. Newly produced salt in Kutubdia and Moheskhali upazilas of Cox's Bazar district has also started coming to the market.
Demand for salt in the country is around 1 lakh tonnes per month whereas the reserve is 6.5 lakh tonnes. Therefore, news about a salt crisis is not credible, said Industries Minister Tipu Munshi.
He also said that a syndicate has been spreading rumours to destabilise the market. "We have ordered the Directorate of Consumer Rights Protection to monitor the market and bring the unscrupulous to book."
Meanwhile, the ministry has opened a control room at the headquarters of the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation to monitor the overall situation and cater to the supply of information to citizens. In this regard, it requested people to contact the authorities on the following phone numbers: 02-9573505 (land phone) and 01715-223949 (cell phone).
Nurul Kabir, president of the Bangladesh Salt Traders Association, said, "A rumour about salt crisis erupted first in Sylhet. But the news has no ground because there is no deficiency in salt supply right now. We urge people not to pay heed to any fake news [about the so-called crisis]."
Dealers of different companies across the country have already been ordered to further increase salt supply, he said, confirming that salt price has not been raised by even a single penny at mill-gates or at the dealer level.
Our correspondents in different districts, including Chattogram and Jashore, have meanwhile informed us that salt has been selling there at prices that have already been fixed.
However, the situation in Rajshahi was slightly different on Tuesday. In the afternoon, worried people gathered before different groceries to buy edible salt.