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Potato brothers pinch sisters’ pocket

- One variety disappears from market ahead of Bhai Phonta, another dearer

Calcutta, Nov. 4: The cheaper Jyoti potato disappeared from most markets a day before Bhai Phonta and the Chandramukhi variety was sold at almost thrice the price during the festive season last year.

Although the government has stuck to its claim of doing “everything possible” to mitigate the crisis, buyers had to shell out between Rs 20 and Rs 24 today to purchase the Chandramukhi potato in Calcutta markets, much higher than the Rs 13 pegged by Mamata Banerjee and between Rs 8 and Rs 11 during the last quarter of 2012.

“The Jyoti variety is not available in the market. So we are being forced to purchase the costlier Chandramukhi,” said homemaker Deblina Roy at Maniktala market.

The situation was similar elsewhere in the state, with consumers wondering why prices remained steep despite assurances from the government, administrative monitoring and arrests of wholesalers.

“Be it Jyoti or Chandramukhi, the supply has been severely affected, which in turn is pushing up prices. The chief minister’s assurances have not trickled down to the grassroots,” said Rampurhat-based wholesaler Vijay Jaiswal.

In Birbhum’s Rampurhat, retailers stopped selling potato today because the administration was “forcing” them to charge Rs 13 a kilo.

In Hooghly’s Mogra, police seized 200kg of potato each from two wholesalers following complaints that they were charging high prices. Twenty-five wholesalers were arrested in West Midnapore.

Wholesalers attributed the “artificial scarcity” of potato in the markets to a three-day strike organised by the West Bengal Progressive Potato Merchants Association, the largest umbrella organisation of potato traders, since Saturday.

This year, the state has produced a surplus of 30 lakh tonnes of potato, a big part of which is still in cold storages because traders protesting the price ceiling and a government ban on sale to other states have refused to take them out.

Around 18 lakh tonnes of potato are being stored in the 500-odd cold storages in the state.

From tomorrow, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation plans to sell 4,000kg of potato at Rs 11 a kg to retailers in city markets.

“They will have to sell the consignment to consumers at Rs 13 a kilo. We hope to implement the plan by Tuesday morning,” said Khalil Ahmed, the CMC commissioner.

Agri-marketing minister Arup Roy refuted the retailer lobby’s claim that potato was not available at the wholesale rate of Rs 11. “If any retailer faces a problem, he can come to our Sakher Bazar godown and procure potato. We will give it to them at Rs 10.50 a kilo,” he said.

The government sold Jyoti potato at Rs 13 a kilo from outlets in 12 markets in Calcutta and Howrah today.

Minister Roy, who oversaw the sale of 1,000kg of potato at Howrah’s Shibpur market today, said the government was doing “everything possible” to monitor and regularise the price of the tuber and the situation was expected to become normal within days.

Setting a ceiling on the price of potato has failed to yield results as the government doesn’t have control over production and the supply chain.