At a government programme in South 24-Parganas’s Sarisha on Wednesday, Mamata Banerjee focused on the prices and availability of essential food items instead of political rhetoric, demonstrating her awareness of the problems those running kitchens are facing.
“I apologise for taking a lot of time to talk about the problems of daily life that the common man is facing. Not every day does one feel like talking about politics. Today, I spoke from the heart instead,” the chief minister said.
Mamata mentioned four items, their use in the kitchen and offered solutions.
• Problem: Onions come from Nashik and other places in central India. We have to rely on imports, which push up prices. We lag behind in the production of onion.
• Culinary trivia: Onions can’t be grown everywhere. We could grow onions in Purulia and its surrounding areas but I was told by experts that most of Bengal’s onions are consumed at a very early stage — as spring onions. We love spring onions. We have them fried, in curries and chochchori. Delicious, isn’t it, my mothers and sisters ?
• Solution: Our agriculture, agri-marketing and horticulture departments have been asked to focus on onion production, encourage farmers and equip them with knowledge and technology for the production. If Nashik can, there’s no reason why some of our districts can’t.
• Problem: Excellent chillies are grown in Bengal. I found out during a recent rise in chilli prices that the best chillies come from Haldibari in north Bengal and Canning in South 24-Parganas. But prices sometimes shoot up because of a shortfall created by the use of chillies in bulk in some products.
• Culinary trivia: My mothers and sisters, don’t we love chillies? We eat them raw, we eat them fried, we eat them dried, we eat them ground, we eat them powdered, we eat them in curry.... We just love chillies.
• Solution: When there was a crisis,I immediately stopped their use in sauces and pickles. It is more important that the common man gets chillies for a meal of aloo sheddho and rice. If most of the produce is used up to make sauces and pickles, the problem will only worsen if there is a shortfall because of inclement weather.
• Problem: We are easily capable of producing enough potatoes for our domestic consumption but we rely on Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and other places. Potatoes are sent by train, trucks or planes and the prices automatically shoot up.
• Culinary trivia: Bengal’s own potatoes are excellent for aloo dum, aloo sheddho and other dishes. But we can’t make chips from the potatoes grown here.
• Solution: The agriculture department is working on improving potato production, while the agri-marketing department is trying to provide necessary back-up such as storage and marketing.
• Problem: We have excellent fish here, but we lag behind in their production. Where do we get most of our fish from? Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and other states. That is why fish becomes so expensive at times.... Hilsa comes at Rs 1,500-2,500 a kg sometimes. The best hilsa comes from Bangladesh. We catch our hilsa when they weigh 400-500 grams. At less than 1.5kg, they are never as tasty.
• Culinary trivia: Machhey-bhatey Bangali — we simply can’t do without fish and rice. Besides rohu, we love hilsa and prawn.
• Solution: We have been encouraging fish production. That is one of the goals of the Jal Dharo Jal Bharo project.
In every such programme, I dedicate a segment for those in fisheries. So that our dependence on Bangladesh for hilsa is reduced, I inaugurated a hilsa research centre in South 24-Parganas today.
Scientists will conduct research on how hilsa can be grown in ponds.
Compiled by Meghdeep Bhattacharyya