In the midst of the crucial Bihar Assembly polls, rising price of pulses, particularly that of arhar or tur dal, has become a political hot potato, with both the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Opposition parties blaming each other for the crisis.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and top NDA ministers Ramvilas Paswan and Radha Mohan Singh entered into a verbal duel, with the former blaming the Centre for making the ‘poor man’s meat’ prohibitive.
The raids were facilitated after the Centre amended the Essential Commodities Act, enabling states to impose stock-holding limits on pulses sourced from imports, exporters, and large food processing firms.
The Union Cabinet secretary and senior officials from the department of consumer affairs, food and agriculture have held several rounds of discussions to handle the situation and are monitoring the price on a daily basis.
State-owned MMTC has already imported 5,000 tonnes of tur and floated revised tenders for import of 2,000 tonnes of chickpea.
The tender had to be revised as the price fetched was much higher. That apart, it has also started selling pulses at cheap rates through retail outlets of Kendriya Bhandar and Safal.
Gujarat, too, re-imposed the stock holding limit on whole-sellers and retailers for dal. The state’s food and civil supplies minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama said whole-sellers and retailers have agreed to sell tur dal at Rs 135 a kg in the state and not more than that.
Madhya Pradesh food and civil supplies minister Vijay Shah held a meeting with the mill owners and traders and assured them of reviewing the stock limits on pulses in view of some objections raised by them.
In Karnataka, inspections were carried out in Mysuru district resulting in recovery of 360 tonnes of pulses. In Madhya Pradesh, raids were conducted in 25 locations resulting in seizure of 2,295 tonnes of pulses, while in Telangana, 2,546 tonnes of pulses were seized from 1,820 raids. The Andhra Pradesh government has seized 600 tonnes of pulses in 56 raids. In Rajasthan, the government has intensified enforcement of stock limits.
In total, around 5,800 tonnes of pulses have been seized from hoarders, which incidentally is almost near the total amount imported by the Central government so far.
That apart, the Centre has allocated imported pulses to Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu following their requests.
On the political battle-field, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar blamed the Centre for making pulses, “the poor man’s meat”, prohibitive for the common man and taunted Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his earlier statement in relation to corruption “na khuanga na khane doonga (neither will I indulge in corruption nor allow others to do wo)”.
A rattled NDA deputed its two senior-most leaders food minister Ramvilas Paswan and agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh to counter the claims.
While blaming the Bihar government for failing to raise pulses production, Singh said the Centre has written six letters to state governments, including Bihar, to take benefit of the ‘Price Stabilisation Fund’ to sell pulses at cheaper rates.
He said the “politically motivated” Kumar government deliberately did not utilise the fund, while Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Delhi and West Bengal utilised the fund to sell pulses at Rs 120 to Rs 130 through retail outlets. The fund is raised by each state to which the Centre contributes 50 per cent of the money.
Food minister Ram Vilas Paswan, meanwhile, alleged the Bihar government did not take appropriate steps to contain prices of pulses only to “sully” the image of the Modi government.
He said the Bihar government did not convey the state’s requirement when the Centre planned to import pulses.
Kumar hit back saying how people wanted their purane din (old days) back. “Why is it that not just Bihar, but pulses are selling for Rs 200 a kg in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh?” he asked. The three states are ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments.
The Congress, too, raised questions on the policies of the Modi government to tackle the skyrocketing prices of pulses. Former commerce minister and party spokesman Anand Sharma said it has imported a paltry 600,000 tonnes when the need was for five million tonnes.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, attacking the Centre for the spiralling prices, said the time has come when the BJP should work on its ‘formula’, for curbing price rise.
Meanwhile, retail prices of tur dal continued its upward march on Tuesday and tagged along urad. In some places, tur prices touched Rs 210 a kg, while urad rates increased to Rs 198 a kg, moong was selling at Rs 135, masoor at Rs 120 and gram (chana) for Rs 84 a kg in the retail market.
Prices have shot up due to a 2-million tonne fall in output in 2014-15 on deficient and untimely rains. Government data show tur dal was selling at Rs 85 a kg a year ago.