About 1.30 lakh tonnes of pulses have been seized from hoarders in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, New Delhi and other parts of northern India in the last few months, official sources said here on Sunday. The crackdown is part of government efforts to rein in the spiralling prices of pulses, of which some varieties are selling in retail in large cities in the range of Rs 180-200 per kg.
“Hoarding is a hard fact and this is reported from parts of north India including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. So far, adequate actions have been taken in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu,” an official source said. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told a TV channel in an interview telecast on Saturday that action against hoarders last year helped the government bring the prices of pulses down by about Rs 50 per kg in the retail market.
This year the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Income Tax department and local police have been conducting raids on people who are suspected to have been hoarding pulses to take advantage of the high prices, according to sources. The high prices of pulses, however, arise from the long-term issue of supply falling short of demand by “about five million tonnes”, Jaitley said in his TV interview, terming the shortfall a “serious challenge” for the government to tackle.
The demand-supply gap could be even wider than five million tonnes. A source in the food ministry said: “As against the average supply of 17 million tonnes of pulses, the national demand is about 24 million tonnes. India is largest producer of pulses but also largest consumer and a very large importer.” The ministry confirms that about 5.5 million tonnes of pulses were imported in the last financial year.
This year too the government is looking to import pulses from Myanmar, Mozambique and other countries, the source said. He said pulses are generally imported by private traders as well as public-sector agencies. “But to avoid black-marketing, government-to-government contracts have been planned with countries like Myanmar to import the stuff for enhanced buffer stocks,” the source said. The government decided on June 16 to enhance pulses’ buffer stock from 1.5 lakh tonnes to eight lakh tonnes.
At the same time, the government is looking for ways to boost domestic production, especially by better incentivising the farmer to shift to cultivation of pulses. “Farmers often give up cultivating pulses for want of incentives and shift to paddy. Besides, to cultivate pulses, you need labour and this is also an uncertain crop,” said an official in the agriculture ministry.
The government has decided to procure more pulses this year and also announced higher minimum support price (MSP) for the Kharif or the crop cultivated in summer. “Higher MSP for pulses will give a positive signal to farmers to increase acreage and invest in increase in productivity per acre,” the source said. The Centre has urged states to take pulses from the buffer stock at a subsidised rate of Rs 66 per kg and sell in retail markets at Rs 120 per kg.
Over 10,000 tonnes have been released to the states, including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu, for retail distribution so far. Not many states, however, have come forward so far to buy from the buffer stock.