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Minister jibe at govt potato sale

Calcutta, July 10: The government today went ahead with its decision to sell potatoes at Rs 13 a kilo, but CPM minister Susanta Ghosh dubbed it “impractical and unrealistic’’.

The state will purchase potatoes from cold storages and sell them at a dozen places in Calcutta and one in Salt Lake from tomorrow.

From Tuesday, they will be sold at every district headquarters and gradually at the subdivision level.

Places where the govt will sell potatoes from today

Potatoes that sold for Rs 10 a kilo in the bazaar are now selling at Rs 17-18.

“The state can’t sit back and relax,” finance minister Asim Dasgupta said today. “It has got to intervene and play a welfare role. That’s why we have decided to sell potatoes at lower (than market) prices.”

To start with, the government will sell 100 tonnes and no one will get more than 2kg. Next week, the volume will be raised to 300 tonnes.

“The process will continue till the potato prices ease,” Dasgupta said.

“At a later stage, we plan to sell edible oil, sugar and pul-ses at cheap rates through ration shops,” he added.

However, during a meeting the finance minister held with some of his cabinet colleagues and officials, Ghosh pressed the trigger against his own government. He said the decision to withdraw potatoes from cold storages now would lead to a shortage ahead of winter.

“Potato production this year has been below par with the rain not arriving on time,” Ghosh, the minister for the western region that includes Lalgarh, said at Writers’.

“Last year, 55 lakh tonnes of potato had been shoved into cold storages. This year, the figure is 33 lakh tonnes. Given that this deficit can’t be bridged, the government shouldn’t have sold potatoes from cold storages. It is impractical. What will happen if the entire stock in the storages is used up before winter?”

The potato crop is harvested twice a year: once in May-June and then in November-December.

However, agriculture marketing department sources said the cold storages would have enough stocks to last till November even after this current phase of sale.

Asked about Ghosh’s contention, Dasgupta said: “There may have been some misunderstanding. I will talk to him.”

Officials also claimed that the government had the machinery to sell potatoes through the essential commodities supply corporation and the co- operation department-run Samavayika stores.

Officials of the corporation, civic bodies and the Samavayikas will sell potatoes under police vigil lest local traders create a ruckus.

“The sale will have nothing to do with the regular functioning of the bazaars or the Samavayikas as the new arrangement will be a special purpose vehicle,” said agriculture marketing minister Mortaza Hossain.

The government, he added, is planning to amend a law to make its provisions on hoarding more stringent. “There is a need to strengthen the Essential Commodities Supply Act.”

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