The country's grocery stores were out of soybean oil stock for several days during this Eid-ul-Fitr, but thousands of litres of the essential cooking ingredient are now coming out of the warehouses of traders everyday in raids by monitoring agencies.
According to official disclosure, more than 5,00,000 liters of soybean oil and palm oil have been recovered in the raids since Eid as some 2,60,000 litres seized yesterday alone.
Amid the ongoing crackdown by law enforcers, the largest stockpile was found in Khulna on Thursday. In a joint operation of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the district administration, 222 tonnes of edible oil – hoarded in the warehouses of three traders – were recovered from the town on the day.
Debashish Basak, executive magistrate at the Khulna District Administration, said the three crooked traders were fined Tk1,60,000 for the illegal hoarding. Besides, they were asked to sell the oil at fixed prices within the following three days, he added.
Meanwhile, the syndicates of oil traders have squeezed an additional Tk160 crore out of the consumers by creating an artificial crisis of edible oil before and after the Eid, AHM Safiquzzaman, director general of the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection, said on Thursday.
At a meeting with edible oil traders – organised by the directorate in the wake of allegations of forcible sales of various products including tea leaves with oil amid the supply crunch, he also said there are instructions from high-ups in the government to take more stringent actions against hoarders. "We are getting tougher with the campaign."
He also said action would also be taken against the companies that had been pressuring the shopkeepers to buy various products with oil during Eid. Subsequently, dealers involved in such acts will also be subjected to severe punishment, he maintained.
A press release issued by the Consumer Rights Protection directorate said 2,60,000 litres of edible oil was seized and distributed in 36 districts across the country, including Dhaka, on Thursday. More than Tk18 lakh were collected from the hoarders in these connections.
Besides, two business organisations in Gazipur's Tongi Bazar were fined Tk200,000 for selling previously bought soybean and palm oil at the current prices.
The Consumer Rights Protection directorate raided the Messrs Taher and Sons, and Messrs Noakhali Banijya Bitaan in Tongi Bazar on Wednesday afternoon. At that time, 12,648 litres of edible oil was found in their godowns. The drive was conducted by the directorate's Assistant Director Abdul Jabbar Mandal.
Abdul Jabbar Mandal said 6,732 litres of stockpiled soybean and palm oil were seized from Taher and Sons, and 5,916 liters of stockpiled soybean and palm oil were seized from Messrs Noakhali Banijya Bitaan. At that time, the seized oil was sold among the interested buyers reduced prices.
Besides, more than 900 litres of cooking oil were found stockpiled in Noakhali, 37,000 litres in Sirajganj, and 75,000 liters in Pabna in raids as of Thursday.
TBS correspondents in Khulna, Rajshahi, and Pabna said those who are now being found to have hoarded edible oil refrained from selling the item in their shops during the crisis. They stockpiled the essential commodity in the hope of making more profits, observed the correspondents, adding the traders, however, started releasing the stocks in the market only after the government hiked oil prices.
Market to stabilise in 2-3 days: Minister
Meanwhile, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi on Thursday expressed hope that the volatile oil market would become stable within two to three days.
"If oil prices continue to fall in the international market, it will affect the local market as well," he said while talking to reporters after a function at a hotel in the capital.
The minister responded to inquiries about when the government plans to import oil saying, "We are working on the matter. We are hopeful that we will be able to import oil through the TCB from June."
Local businesses are demanding to stop the drive conducted by the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection to recover edible oils. Regarding the issue, the minister said, "Operations will continue till the supply returns to normal."
On 5 May, the commerce ministry fixed prices of bottled soybean oil at Tk198 a litre with a Tk38 hike, fearing losses because of a rise in prices in the international market.