Boro farming comes to an abrupt halt for diesel crisis |
Reaz Ahmad with Hasibur Rahman
Thousands of irrigation pumps have remained idle across the northern region due to an acute diesel crisis, forcing millions of farmers to stop planting in the peak Boro season and casting a shadow over farm production this year in the country.
With diesel price shooting up to Tk 70 per litre in the rice-rich northern region, distressed farmers laid siege to filling stations and barricaded roads at several places, demanding immediate solution to the crisis.
Officials at the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) in Dhaka claimed to have been monitoring the situation closely along with the district administration concerned.
"This is the planting season of Boro rice and if the farmers have to buy diesel at high price, we fear a huge crop loss will result in. We have informed the ministry concerned of the situation," said Shamsul Alam, director in-charge of Field Monitoring at the DAE.
Meanwhile, as vessels carrying fuel stuck up due to silting up of river channel, a floating depot was opened at Kazirhat, 25km downstream Baghabari river port in Sirajganj yesterday, reports our Netrakona correspondent.
The floating depot will distribute 750 tonne fuel against a daily demand of 22,000 tonne in the northern districts.
Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation officials were apprehensive of the consequences after their 12-day reserve in the depot exhausts.
Farmers require 12 lakh tonne diesel during the peak Boro season in January to run over one million pumps to irrigate the Boro crop, which constitutes 55 percent of the country's total yield of rice. The Aus and Aman crops constitute the rest. This year's projected target of Boro production is set at 140 million tonne.
Farmers could not plant Boro in early January due to dense fog. There was also a shortage of labourers during Eid-ul-Azha in mid-January.
Officials speaking on condition of anonymity at the agriculture ministry, acknowledged the farmers' plights due to the rise in diesel price by Tk 4-8 per litre but once again passed the responsibility on the finance ministry for shelving its proposal of subsidising diesel for irrigation two years now.
Since the BNP-led coalition came to power in 2001, diesel prices have risen from Tk 15 to Tk 33 per litre, increasing farm output costs and in effect forcing the consumers to pay much higher price for rice now than four years back.
Aggrieved people blocked the road leading to the Chilmari river port in Kurigram district yesterday, demanding diesel and petrol. Police were deployed at the filling stations in Panchagarh to thwart agitators while people laid siege to a filling station at Taraganj in Rangpur.
Local DAE officials said at least 5,000 out of 30,000 diesel-run pumps in Kurigram remained inactive due to the fuel crisis. The DAE projected Boro cultivation on 71,805 hectares of land in this northern district but half the area still is not ready for Boro transplantation.
Magistrate Enamul Haq had to intervene and assure the agitating people of rationing diesel.
Alauddin Mondal of Atrai in Naogaon district said he had been trying to collect some diesel for the past few days but in vain. "Ultimately, I will have to stop operating my irrigation pumps and opt for non-Boro crops that can be done without irrigation," he said.
Experts fear such options by Boro farmers would mean less rice production in the country in 2005-06, which will strain the country's foreign reserve for importing more rice.
Another farmer from Bogra said he could manage only five litre diesel yesterday and that too from several pumps, while he required 20 litre.
Our staff reporter Anwar Ali reports from Rajshahi that paddy growers from different upazilas in the district came to the divisional headquarters for diesel but had to return empty handed in most cases.
The situation remained unchanged yesterday with all the 30 fuel stations in the district remaining closed as the pump owners could not buy oil from the Baghabari depot.
Quazi Anwar, a paddy grower from Mohishalbari in Godagari, said an unknown person promised him to sell diesel at Tk 15 higher than the regular price. Anwar said he readied seedbeds for cultivating Boro on 12 bighas of land but could not irrigate the land for want of diesel.
Our Netrakona correspondent Jahangir Alam reported that retailers sold diesel and kerosene at Tk 50 and petrol at Tk 100 per litre.
The artificial fuel crisis gripped the district town and ten upazilas of the district as all the filling stations refrained from selling fuel yesterday.
Our Pabna correspondent Shoikat Afrooz Asad reports: A temporary pontoon was set up at Nagarbari-Kazirhat Ghat in Sujanagar upazila of Pabna yesterday to help ease the crisis of fuel in the northern districts.