Coronavirus Pandemic

Transport crisis slows down trade, commerce in port city

Nur Uddin Alamgir and Yasir Silmy

1 April, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Transport crisis slows down trade, commerce in port city

Employees of an onion shop at the city’s largest wholesale market at Khatunganj spend idle time as the trading slows down following the general holiday due to the coronavirus pandemic. — Rabin Chowdhury

Trade and commerce in Chattogram and other parts of the country are being hampered to a great extent following unofficial lockdown over the last one week due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Transportation of goods to and from the country’s premier seaport and largest wholesale market at Khatunganj and Chaktai appears as a major challenge due to crisis of goods-laden vehicles.

Closure of eateries across the country and limited transaction at banks are also responsible for the situation.

Businessmen feared that they may have to incur loss due to disruption in movement of goods-laden vehicles while it also may leave negative impact on the price of essential commodities ahead of the Ramadan.

As the situation lowered the delivery rate, containers are being stockpiled at the yards of Chattogram Port growing concern gradually.

According to the statistics, the number of containers at the port was 43,229 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in 24 hours until 8:00am on Tuesday against the total stocking capacity of around 50,000 containers.

A total of 1,708 containers were delivered from the port within the span of time against over 3,500 to 4,500 containers of the regular period, said sources.

Contacted, Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) Secretary Md Omar Faruk told the daily sun that loading and unloading of containers and bulk cargos at the port jetties remains usual.

But, the C&F agents and other stakeholders cannot take delivery of the goods at usual pace due to different causes including lack of vehicles and necessary staff for conducting the procedures, he said.

Asked about the sufficient space for stocking the growing number of containers at the port yards, Secretary Faruk said though they have stocking capacity of 50,000, they are trying to increase the space to avert the container congestion.

The authorities of the port and customs kept their activities continued for uninterrupted supply of goods to and from the port, he added.

On the other hand, the businesses at the city’s largest wholesale market in Khatunganj and Chaktai are also hampered unexpectedly despite having out of the general holiday purview.

Sources claimed that usually the traders of the Khatunganj and Chaktai do business of an amount of around Tk 1,800 to Tk 2,000 crore per day.

But, due to the situation the trade came down drastically to Tk 150 to Tk 200 crore, they said.

The disruption in supply chain may leave negative impact on the price of essential commodities during the upcoming Ramadan, they feared.

Prices of commodities at retail markets also marked rise due to lack of the sufficient supply against the down trend at the wholesale market.

Mintu Sawdagor, owner of Mohammadia Banijjalay at Khatunganj, said they are afraid of spread of the coronavirus while the trading rate is also getting slower following announcement of the general holiday.

“We could supply against the demands of customers in the last week. But we cannot sell goods properly for the lack of transport now while branches of different banks are also kept closed,” he said.

“There is no space at our godowns to preserve the goods due to the slowed trade,” said the trader.

Besides, the vehicle owners are charging fare almost double cashing in the current situation, he alleged.

The authority should take initiative to ensure uninterrupted services at banks and movement of transports to keep the supply chain okay, suggested the trader.  

Khatunganj Trade and Industries Association General Secretary Syed Sagir Ahmed told the daily sun that they kept all shops closed except those of food items at the market following the government directive over coronavirus pandemic.

“The trade is greatly hampered due to lack of online bank services as most of the traders transact through it,” he said.

Despite having no restriction over movement of goods-laden vehicles on road, traders have to face problems while hiring the vehicles, said the general secretary.

Government should pursue the vehicles owners and workers to ply the vehicles for keeping the supplies of consumable goods continued across the country, he said.

“We should also wait and observe the situation as public gathering may result in spread of the coronavirus,” he opined.

Most of traders at retail markets stocked their necessary goods before the lockdown and the stocked items will be sufficient for the next one week, said Sagir adding that there is nothing to be worried as the situation will become normal soon after withdrawal of the lockdown.

“We have sufficient goods in our stock also for the holy month of Ramadan,” he said further.

“There will be no shortage of goods,” he added.

Contacted, Chattogram District Covered Van and Mini Truck Owners Group, and Goods Transport Owners Federation Organising Secretary Md Shafiur Rahman Tipu said there was a little confusion among the drivers and staff of the vehicles during the announcement of countrywide general holiday and prohibition on movement of transport.

They thought that all the vehicles would be under the directive for not to ply. Some of them went to village home to park the vehicles in garage and it resulted in shortage of vehicles, he said.

Apart from fear of being infected, the transport drivers and workers are also facing crisis of food as all the hotels and food shops beside roads are kept closed, said the organising secretary.

Administration also banned public gathering at truck terminal in the city’s Madarbari area where traders go for hiring vehicles.

It scattered the traders and vehicles hampering the transport service, he said.

“We requested the owners of eateries beside roads and police department to assist the transport workers for uninterrupted movement of goods-laden vehicles,” Shafiur said.

On the other hand, prices of some items require during the month of Ramadan have increased at the retail market.

The good quality gram is being sold at Tk 80 per kilogram (kg) against Tk 70 of the last week, pulse (masur) at Tk 125 per kg against Tk 120, and khesari at Tk 100 against Tk 80 per kg of the last week.

Both the wholesalers and retailers blamed each other for the situation while the transport crisis also contributed to it, said the sources.