Ginger could give Mamata Banerjee a jolt and brinjal might leave her bristling when she makes a “surprise” tour of retail markets in town to verify whether her task force on prices is presenting the right picture.
The chief minister declared her intention to do a first-hand reality check after a bimonthly briefing at Writers’ Buildings on Friday.
“We asked her when she would like to visit and she said it would be a surprise check,” Rabindranath Koley, a representative of the Byabshayee Samiti in the task force, said.
Metro visited Maniktala market in the north and Lake Market in the south and found the prices of several items to be higher than that mentioned by officials and market representatives at the meeting.
Ginger is being sold at Rs 200 a kilo at Lake Market and Rs 180 at Maniktala, but the chief minister was told that it was priced Rs 140 to Rs 150 a kilo. Prices of several other vegetables were higher than the official list (see chart).
Senior officials said the chief minister suspected as much, which is why she was keen on visiting the markets.
“Mamata refused to fix a date. She said members of the task force might ask the vendors to temporarily lower their rates if she told them when she would be visiting,” said an official who attended the meeting.
The chief minister has been fiercely critical of the UPA government in Delhi for its failure to keep prices in check and has occasionally cracked down on hoarding and market spikes in Bengal. Her steps to ease the pressure on the pocket have included selling chicken, fish and onion at lower than market rates from government outlets.
In August 2011, a surprise visit by Mamata to the markets had resulted in vegetable prices coming down.
On why there was a disparity in the prices conveyed to the chief minister and that in the market, Koley denied that the task force had fudged figures. “The task force quoted the prices that it collected from the markets,” he said.
A senior official said that prices of various essentials, including vegetables, were a “bit” on the higher side because of heavy rain in parts of the state. “This year, there has been heavy rainfall in South and North 24-Parganas, Hooghly and East Midnapore, which produce the bulk of vegetables consumed in Calcutta. Excessive rainfall has harmed vegetable farming.”
Chief minister Mamata also expressed concern over fish prices shooting up in a state where it is the staple of almost every non-vegetarian household.
Rohu was selling in Maniktala and Lake Market for Rs 180 a kilo on Friday, up from Rs 120 about two months ago.