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Fresh bid to rein in food prices

Finance minister Arun Jaitley with food minister Ram Vilas Paswan in New Delhi on Friday. A Telegraph picture

New Delhi, July 4: The Centre today asked states to crack down on hoarders to check spiralling food prices.

At a meeting between senior central ministers and state food ministers here today, the government also promised to give more teeth to the essential commodities act by making hoarding a non-bailable offence. Finance minister Arun Jaitley, food minister Ram Vilas Paswan and agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh were at the meeting.

The Centre also decided to consider setting up a price stablisation fund, which will be used to help state governments buy commodities and sell at subsidised rates.

The government will have at least one storage facility in each of the 635 districts of the country. Besides, states have been asked to exempt perishable commodities from local taxes and fees till they are delisted from the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act. It has also been decided to free inter-state movement of onion.

Today’s meeting was called to work out the strategy to tackle rising prices and build buffer stocks against a possible monsoon failure.

Though Jaitley warned against panic, almost all state food ministers recommended building more storage facilities to guard against poor rainfall.

“During July-December every year, prices of some food items increase because of hoarding,” Jaitley said here today. The problem, he argued, had been aggravated because of the below-normal monsoon forecasts. Skynet, a privately held weather forecasting service, added to India’s worries by predicting a 60 per cent chance of a below-normal monsoon. “Hoarders are taking advantage of the forecast of below-normal monsoon. State governments should take stern action against hoarders to rein in prices. The Centre will give complete support,” Jaitley said.

However, the minister argued that this year had been better than last year on the price front. “Prices of some items had touched Rs 70-100 per kg last year. Prices are still lower this year. There is no panic situation,” he said.

The price of many food items such as onion, potato and pulses have gone up between 15 per cent and 70 per cent in the last three months.

 
 
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