Stung by the escalating prices of essential commodities, including pulses and select vegetables, the Centre on Wednesday went into damage control and chalked out a roadmap and stringent measures to bring down the prices.
“In order to bring down the growing prices of pulses, the government today decided to boost imports via public and private agencies. This will help meet the deficit,” an official source told a news agency.
The government is also keen to work out joint strategies with states on the price rise front and sought urgent steps on adequate procurement and actions against hoarders.
The decisions were taken at a meeting of a high-powered ministerial team headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in New Delhi.
The meeting attended by Ministers Radha Mohan Singh (Agriculture), Ram Vilas Paswan (Food), Nirmala Sitharaman (Commerce) besides two senior ministers Nitin Gadkari and M. Venkaiah Naidu and senior officials from the Food, Finance and Agriculture ministries reviewed steps taken so far on inadequate storage facilities and procurement problems.
Earlier in the day, the Food ministry also flagged off mobile vans for selling pulses at reasonable prices in the capital.
The meeting was informed that 1.15 lakh tonnes pulses have been procured directly from farmers.
At the meeting, Food Minister Paswan briefed his colleagues that while a pulse buffer stock is ready, the response from many states has not been encouraging.
“We have created a buffer stock and have asked states to place their requirement for retail distribution,” he said.
In 2015 too, the Food Ministry faced problem of procurement from states after lentils were imported, sources said.
The high-powered ministerial panel met on the directive of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as growing prices of essential item potatoes (60 per cent dearer in wholesale markets) and pulses getting costlier by 36 per cent over the past year, pushed up India’s annual wholesale inflation for the second month in May to its highest levels in nearly two years.
India’s retail inflation also rose for the second straight month in May to 5.76 per cent from 5.47 per cent in the month before due to a sharp spike in food prices, Consumer Price Index (CPI) data said on Monday.
Food Minister Paswan later told reporters that “Our department has been asked to procure more pulses for buffer stock” and added that a team of officials will visit Myanmar soon to ensure early and smooth import of lentils.
India is trying to work with Myanmar for a formal agreement for import of tur from that country on government-to-government route.
The Food Ministry source said in New Delhi that together with earlier procurement of 51,000 MT of kharif (summer) crop, total domestic procurement of pulses by June 13 had reached 1,15,000 MT.
The procurement of Rabi pulses has reached to 64,000 MT while the government has also ordered further import of 12,500 MT pulses for buffer stocks.
Sources in the Food Ministry said the meeting was also told that as a precautionary measure the government has procured 20,000 tonnes of onion from farmers to create a buffer stock to be utilised for market intervention. In contrast, the Food Ministry had procured only 8,000 tonnes of onion in 2015 and the retail prices had at one point shot upto about Rs 80-90/kg.
“A close coordination will be worked out with the states and there will be much improvement in the situation in a few days,” the source told a news agency.
The government has already released 10,000 tonnes of pulses from buffer stock to deal with the situation.
Besides pulses, the meeting also discussed the price conditions of tomato, sugar and wheat.
On tomato prices shooting up to about Rs 100 per kg due to crop damage, Paswan said, these are temporary phenomenon and the prices of such items will come down in next 10 to 15 days.
“Prices of these items depend much on demand and supply factors. This is also seasonal and some prices rise between June and August and we need a common national market,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Paswan on Wednesday flagged off mobile vans for selling pulses at reasonable prices in New Delhi.
These mobile vans run by the National Cooperative Consumer Federation of India (NCCF) will sell pulses, mainly Tur and Urad, at Rs 120 per kg in various parts of Delhi, officials said.
Outlets of Kendriya Bhandar and Safal are already selling pulses in Delhi and NCR at these rates.
On the role of the states, Paswan also said in a federal structure the states too are responsible for price rise and they must particularly act against hoarders.
“Necessary advisory on the same has been issued earlier,” he said.