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State differs from Centre stock stand

Patna, July 3: Bihar has rejected the Centre’s decision authorising state governments to set a limit on the quantity of essential commodities — like potatoes and onions — that can be stocked.

Experts say the state and the Centre should work in tandem and the state government’s decision could lead to an unnecessary rise in prices of onions and potatoes.

In an attempt to clamp down on hoarding of potatoes and onions, the Centre had on Wednesday said state governments should set a limit on the quantity that traders can stock.

Food and consumer protection minister Shyam Rajak told The Telegraph today that the state government would not follow the Centre’s directive. “Why should the state fix a cap on stock of onions and potatoes? It is the job of the Centre to come up with a full-fledged policy in this connection. The state government has been trying to control hoardings and steps have been taken to check black-marketing. But rather than passing the buck on to the state government, the Centre should come up with a law or policy and also decide on the quantity that can be stocked. The government will work according to the law or policy whenever the Centre decides on it,” the minister said.

Rajak will attend a meeting in New Delhi tomorrow to be chaired by Union finance minister Arun Jaitley. “There is a meeting in Delhi tomorrow on price rise. Food ministers from all states, including myself, will participate. Union minister of consumer affairs, food and public distribution Ram Vilas Paswan will also be present. I will raise this issue before them and put the state government’s stand across. Policies should be framed on the basis of production,” Rajak said.

With onion and potato prices more or less stable in Bihar, economists had varying opinions on the state’s viewpoint.

The retail price of potatoes in Anta Ghat area, both a wholesale and retail market, is Rs 22 per kg and that of onions is Rs 30 per kg. Potatoes were earlier selling for Rs 24 and onions for Rs 30.

Shaibal Gupta, the member secretary of ADRI (Asian Development Research Institute), said hoarding should not be allowed. “Hoarding of essential items leads to inflation and it should not be allowed. The Centre’s decision isn’t a bad one and aims to curtail the same. But then, in some sense, the state’s stand is also right. With the Centre having decided to put a cap on stocks, both the Centre and the state should work closely to come up with a policy or a law against it. One has to take a pan-India view. Both should work together and not use it to score political brownie points,” Shaibal said.

ADRI director P.P. Ghosh had a different view. “I think the state government is in a better position to decide on the cap in stocks. The supply position is not the same everywhere. It can’t be the same for Nashik as well as Patna. The state government should act and set a reasonable limit. If a dispute arises, it would mean the government is not serious about price rise. Traders should feel confident and be determined and there has to be a trust factor or else inflation is inevitable,” Ghosh said.

Common people reacted sharply to the state government’s stand.

“At this moment, the biggest worry before the common man is inflation and price rise. We are tired of rising petrol and diesel prices. Prices of vegetables are also rising steadily and one of the reasons is hoarding. It is unfortunate if the Centre takes a wise decision and the state government does not agree with it. This is nothing but politics the state government is indulging in,” Ranjan Kumar Singh, a bank employee, said.


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