By Mizan Rahman /Dhaka
Only two days to go for the Bengali New Year’s Day –Pahela Baishakh - on April 14, Abul Kashem went to a fish market in the capital’s Motijheel to buy hilsa on Saturday well ahead of the day to avoid runaway prices. For him the celebration of Bengali New Year is incomplete without the delicious fish.
But he had to return home empty-handed, as the prices were too high for someone like him from the middle class. The seller demanded 6,000 taka ($75) for a frozen pair, each weighing over 1kg.
The prices have remained more or less the same this week too, according to market sources.
Skyrocketing prices of hilsa in the run-up to Bengali New Year’s Day known in Bangladesh as Pahela Baishakh, have become a trend for quite a few years now.
Stakeholders attribute the soaring prices to surging demand ahead of Pahela Baishakh against low supply resulting from multiple factors including a government ban (March-April) on catching the fish in four out of five sanctuaries.
Traders said production of hilsa this year was low compared to that of previous years, which has also contributed to the price hike.
They said that in previous years, an increase in hilsa export around this time created a fall in supply, which caused prices to soar.
After visiting several fish markets in the capital, it was gathered that the export ban has not done much to give buyers a price relief.
On the contrary, banking on rising demand against falling supply, traders are charging exorbitant prices for the fish, whether frozen or fresh, imported or local. However, some traders alleged that hilsa is being smuggled to India and other countries
despite the ban.
Hilsa import could come as a relief but importers in Chittagong said high duty and taxes imposed on imported hilsas have not really come to their aid.
A hilsa weighing around 1kg is sold at Rs700 to Rs 1,000 in Delhi and at Rs500 to Rs1,200 in Kolkata. In Australia, a hilsa weighing between 1.4 and 2.5 kg is sold in the range of A$25 to A$35, said Nadera Sultana Nodi, a Bangladeshi living in Adelaide.
In Saudi Arabia, price of a 1.5kh hilsa stands at 55 Saudi riyal, according to Zahid Babla, a Bangladeshi migrant worker living in the kingdom.
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