Onion price hike brings tears to Bangladeshi eyes

A man works at an onion wholesale market in the Kawran Bazar in Dhakaa, Bangladesh. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 September 2020

Onion price hike brings tears to Bangladeshi eyes

  • Dhaka desperate to beef up local stocks after India halts exports

DHAKA: Onions from the Netherlands? How about Myanmar?

Dhaka resident Masuma Begum said that she will buy the essential commodity from any part of the world a day after India placed a ban on its onion exports, leading to prices almost doubling in Bangladesh.

“Onions are a mandatory ingredient in our cuisine. It’s a part of our daily food habit,” Begum, 39, told Arab News.

She said the dramatic price increase had made it “difficult to buy even the minimum quantity of onions.”

Until Sunday, onions cost 50 cents per kilogram. By Wednesday, they were being sold at up to $1.2 per kilogram.

“My family needs around two kilograms of onions per week. If the current situation prevails, it will increase my expenses a lot. It’s an extra financial burden on our family of five,” Begum said. 

This isn’t the first time the high price of the commodity has led to tears of frustration for consumers and traders in the country.

A similar ban by India on Sept. 30 last year lifted prices to $3 per kilogram.

To maintain supplies, Bangladesh has started importing onions from Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt.

Assuring residents that “there is nothing to worry about,” Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said on Wednesday that the country has 500,000 tons of onions in reserve.

“Within one month, we will normalize the supply chain. Already 1,300 tons of onion are being loaded on ships in Myanmar and will reach Bangladesh shortly,” Munshi told a press briefing.

He said that residents “will have to compromise with their onion demands for one month only.”

According to traders at the capital’s wholesale market in Shyambazar, around 80 percent of Bangladesh’s annual onion consumption is sourced from India.

“We prefer to import onions from India as it takes less time which results in minimum damage to the perishable goods,“ Wahid Hasan told Arab News.

 The trader said there was “enough supply” to meet everyone’s needs and blamed panic buying for the “artificial crisis.”

However, on Wednesday, anticipating a crisis in the onion market, Bangladeshi traders began importing from China, Egypt, Myanmar, the Netherlands, Pakistan and Turkey. 

“We have issued import permission for around 50,000 metric tons of onions. We don’t want to cause people to suffer,” Ashaduzzaman Bulbul, deputy director of the Chottogram Plant Quarantine Station, told Arab News. 

 “We hope the first lot of imported onions will reach our port from Myanmar soon,” he added. 

However, the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh, a wing of the Commerce Ministry that works to maintain supplies of essential commodities, said it had beefed up operations to control the market price.  “We have started selling onions at a reduced price through open market sales across the country. Every day, 276 trucks deliver the goods in different localities so that people can buy at an affordable price,” a spokesman told Arab News.

“Different sourcing channels from some other countries like Myanmar are also underway. People will get sufficient supply of onions in the market,” he added.


Modi’s new parliament plan faces criticism

Updated 18 September 2020

Modi’s new parliament plan faces criticism

  • Critics fears Modi's plan to redevelop New Delhi’s historic Central Vista area is “an attempt to redefine the past”

NEW DELHI: An Indian government plan to redevelop New Delhi’s historic Central Vista area is “an attempt to redefine the past” that will destroy the city’s heritage, historians and architects claim.

The warning follows an announcement that Tata Projects Ltd., one of India’s biggest conglomerates, has won a $121 million contract to build the new parliament building on the site. The redevelopment is a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who wants to replace old government buildings on the site at an estimated cost of $3 billion.

Centra Vista, which stretches from the presidential palace to the India Gate war memorial, was designed by British architects, including Sir Edwin Lutyens, and was once home to British colonial authorities.  

  “This is the only open space in New Delhi and it defines the capital. Why does the government want to occupy public space that serves several purposes? You don’t destroy heritage,” Sohail Hashmi, an historian and heritage conservation expert, told Arab News on Thursday. 

 “In other countries, buildings even older than 200 years are still being used by governments,” he said.

Hashmi said that the Modi government “wants to erase everything that the first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru built.” 

Swapna Liddle, of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, said that existing structures should upgraded to serve new needs before new architecture was installed on the site.  

“It is a historic area. There should be wider consultation with heritage experts,” he added.

In September last year, India’s Central Public Works Department invited bids from architects worldwide by November 2020 to “replan the entire Central Vista area.” The upgrade includes public amenities, parking and green spaces to make Central Vista “a world-class tourist destination.” 

The department said that new buildings are needed because of “acute shortage of office space” and “difficulties in coordination” among ministries. 

The project was approved by a committee headed by the prime minister in April this year without public consultation because India was in lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak. The decision angered concerned citizens, academics, historians and architects. 

“India is passing through a grave crisis in terms of the pandemic and the Central Vista project should be the last thing on our mind,” Lt. Col. Anuj Srivastva, an architect who teaches at the New Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, told Arab News. 

“There is no need for the project. There has been no public consultation and no discussion in the parliament. Even some parliamentarians have said that the project needs to be shelved.” 

Historian Aditya Mukherjee, of New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, accused Modi of “behaving like a medieval king” at a time when millions are starving or have lost their jobs.

“In a modern democracy, if someone wants to leave a legacy, it should be through ideas and people’s welfare,” he said. 

Political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said the prime minister is using the project to divert attention from the coronavirus crisis. 

“Modi wants to instil a sense of pride at executing a major project that will be talked about as a major national achievement,” he said.  

“From now on it’s not going to be Lutyens’ New Delhi but Modi’s Central Vista.”