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Buying rush prompts market vigil panel

With the truckers’ strike entering its fifth day on Friday, people went on a spree of panic buying in Calcutta and its adjoining areas, as stocks of various commodities, brought in from other states, have dropped by half.

Shoppers targeted fish, eggs, onions, mustard oil and lentils. Markets in Salt Lake, Shyambazar, Maniktala and Gariahat witnessed brisk business. In many areas, a section of traders have already taken advantage of the situation and hiked prices.

Anamika Ghosh, of Maniktala, voiced her fears: “The truckers’ strike shows no sign of being called off and stocks are depleting. Nothing will be available after a couple of days. So, I have purchased extra amounts of onion and mustard oil.”

Ajoy Das, a grocer at Maniktala, said: “Over the past five days, we have not received any supplies. We are worried about the way people are buying up things, because whatever stocks we have will get exhausted sooner. I cannot ration my goods and have to meet customer demand.”

Concerned over the development, the state government has formed a high-power committee, led by chief secretary S.N. Roy, to maintain a close vigil on the markets in order to prevent hoarding of goods. The other members in the committee include home secretary A.K. Deb, the secretaries of the food and agriculture departments, city police chief Sujoy Chakraborty and director-general of state police D.C. Vajpai.

Officials of the food and civil supplies department fear that stocks will be exhausted if the strike continues for another four or five days. The shopping spree sees eight to 10 per cent of stocks being exhausted daily.

According to officials of the agriculture department, 80 per cent of the consumption of commodities like wheat, pulses, mustard oil, onions, egg and fish come from other states. Every day, 1,600 tonnes of onions arrive from Maharashtra and 2,000 tonnes of masur dal are brought in from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. At least 1,500 tonnes of mustard oil come from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, about 6,000 tonnes of fish arrive from Andhra Pradesh and three crore eggs arrive from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Food commissioner N.K.S. Jhala, however, held out the assurance that foodgrain stocks should not pose a problem. “We have enough,” he said.

The home secretary said he had already asked the officers-in-charge of police stations to patrol the retail and wholesale markets. “We have made it clear that no trader will be allowed to hoard any commodity to sell it at a premium. The police will arrest those who engage in any kind of malpractice,’’ Deb said.

The secretary-general of the Calcutta Goods Transport Association, a truckers’ body affiliated to the All India Motor Transport Congress, said on Friday that the strike would continue as the talks with the Centre had failed. “We have allowed truckloads of milk, LPG and life-saving drugs to ply. In future, ferrying of such emergency items may also be stopped,’’ he said.

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