The activities of the Dhaka city's meat traders in response to alleged levying of excess tax on them while purchasing cows and goats from the permanent cattle market at Gabtoli are not at all acceptable. The meat traders, in fact, have crossed all limits and are now subjecting the consumers to their whims. In the middle part of February last, they stopped selling beef and mutton in protest against the levying of 'excess' tax and in support of their other demands. But following a meeting between the meat traders and the minister concerned, the strike was called off after more than a week's time. But while resuming business the meat traders arbitrarily hiked the price of beef and mutton by Tk100 and Tk 150 a kilogramme respectively. The Ministry of Commerce and the two city corporations preferred to look the other way.
The latest hike was the second one since the traders had put into effect almost an identical hike when the Indian government ordered its Border Security Force (BSF) to fully stop smuggling of cows to Bangladesh along the border. However, such a big jump in the price of beef and mutton over the period of a couple of years, obviously, has left some impact on the consumers. Lately, they have reduced consumption of both, leading to a slump in the trading of meat. Many meat traders reportedly have been forced to close down their shops because of low daily turnover.
In such a situation, the meat traders announced the enforcement of yet another strike from the first day of the upcoming holy month of Ramadan in support of their demands. The demands include the lowering of tax levied on cows and goats and the opening of another permanent cattle market in southern part of the city. However, they withdrew the proposed strike following 'assurances' given by the Commerce Minister during a meeting with city traders last Sunday.
There is, apparently, some confusion over the allegation that the meat traders have been making about imposing 'higher' rate of tax by the Gabtoli cattle market management. According to a high official of the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), a general buyer is required to pay tax at the rate of 3.0 per cent of the purchase value of cow or goat. But the market management collects only Tk 50 and Tk 15 as tax for a cow and a goat respectively from the licensed meat traders. The tax rate is highly insignificant and does not anyway justify the hike that they have lately put into effect.
The actual problem lies somewhere else. Beside the licensed meat traders, there are hundreds of unlicensed ones across the city. The cattle market authority levies tax on the unlicensed traders at the rate applicable in the case of general buyers. This is cited as 'harassment' by the city meat traders association. But while making all the allegations and demands the meat traders have never bothered to see how they are subjecting the consumers to their whims. Not only are meat traders fleecing the latter, they have also been flouting the rules relating to slaughter of animals and processing of their meat. Instead of bringing the animals to the designated slaughter houses, they slaughter those in very unhygienic places. A section of unscrupulous officials of the city corporations are involved in such an evil practice for reasons that do not need any elaboration.
Under the circumstances, the government should take immediate steps to bring down the prices of meat to a reasonable level.