The bank of the Meghna river in Ashuganj upazila of Brahmanbaria is used as the largest marketplace of paddy produced in the haor regions.
Rice mill owners purchase rice from the traders and farmers, while the trading continues round the year.
But due to the coronavirus outbreak, there has been a new problem in this market. Because of the ongoing lockdown, the private banks have shortened their banking hours.
Since the mainstream rice mill owners have their bank accounts with private banks, they are facing cash crisis. As they do not have sufficient cash, they cannot purchase paddy. So, they are worried about supplying rice to the government storehouses in due time.
Those involved in the market said that farmers and traders from Brahmanbaria, Kishoreganj, Netrokona, Mymensingh, Sunamganj, Sylhet, Habiganj and other districts arrive here using the riverways.
Every day, hundreds of boats crowd the VOC ghat on the Meghna riverbank, they said.
They also termed this the largest market in the east region where trading continues from morning till noon.
At present, at the Ashuganj mokam (marketplace), BR-28, BR-29 and Heera paddies are being sold. But the rice mill owners are unable to procure the rice as they lack cash.
Currently, each rice mill needs 500-600 maunds of rice in a day.
The market sells around one lakh maunds of rice each day in the first two to three months of the Bengali calendar. And in the other usual times, the sale is around 50-60 thousand maunds.
But sales have dropped in the past few days.
It has dropped to 20–30 thousand maunds in a day as the rice mill owners are unable to buy the right amount of rice.
In the market, BR-28 is sold at Tk700-750 per maund, BR-29 at Tk680-700 per maund, and Heera paddy at Tk580-600 per maund.
According to the rice mill owners, there are 350 rice mills in Brahmanbaria. And among the mills, around 300 is located in Ashuganj.
Alongside supplying rice to the government storage, the rice mills also supply to other divisional markets. Supplying rice to the government storage will begin from May 7 but the amount is yet to be decided.
Due to coronavirus spread, Brahmanbaria district has been locked down since April 7. Accordingly, the private banks were closed from April 12-18. Transactions in the banks began from April 19.
Decisions have been taken to keep the banks open for two to three days in a week on a roaster basis.
However, the rice mill owners demand that the banks be kept open for all the working days so that they can have smooth transactions.
"I have produced BR-28 and BR-29 paddies on around 500 decimal lands in the current season. I had to spend Tk700 for per maund, but it is getting tough to sell a maund at Tk700 in the market," said Kitab Ali, a farmer from Bajitpur upazila of Kishoreganj.
Md Billal, a rice trader of Ashuganj, said, "We need around one lakh maunds of rice every day but the arrival is around 20–30 thousand maunds. As the rice mill owners cannot pay us, we cannot pay the farmers."
"The farmers of remote areas are not selling paddies without cash. They need to meet all the expenses after selling the paddies. Besides, we cannot store the right amount of money at home. It is not possible to roam around with that money," said Hasan Imran, owner of Rajanigandha Agrofood in Ashuganj.
If we cannot procure paddy, there would be some troubles while supplying to the government storage. So, we need smooth bank transactions, he added.
"This is the season of paddy harvesting. The farmers have already started harvesting but we cannot buy paddies according to our needs. So, they do not bring a massive amount of rice," said Kamrul Shikder, proprietor of Rupsa Rice Mill at Sonarpur of Ashuganj.
We are having problems in withdrawing money as the banks are closed for the lockdown, he said, adding that they cannot pay the traders to collect paddy from farmers.
Helal Shikder, general secretary of Ashuganj Rice Mill Owners Association, said, "This is our peak season. We will supply the paddies to the government storage after collecting them from local farmers. But we cannot buy the paddies as we do not have hard cash."
So, we need to buy paddy and also we want the banks to remain open on every working day, he added.
"The government banks are open after the directives of the central bank. But many of the traders have their bank accounts in the private banks," said Iqbal Hossain Bhuyian, president of Brahmanbaria Bankers Forum.
The district administration has asked the private banks to keep the branches open for two to three working days for the convenience of the businessmen. But keeping the branches open for five working days is not possible, said the banker.
"Only the central bank can extend the number of working days for transaction," he added.
Md Nazimul Haider, upazila nirbahi officer of Ashuganj, said that the banks are open two or three days in a week.
"But nobody placed any demand to increase the working days of the banks. If we receive any such demand, we will try to meet it through the appropriate authorities," he added.