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Price rise heat on onion hoarders

Ranchi, July 5: The state agriculture department has directed all 24 districts to crack down on hoarders, just a couple of days after the Centre brought onions and potatoes under the purview of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, to rein in inflation.

Though the Jharkhand government is yet to specify stock limits for holding the two essential commodities, state agriculture secretary Nitin Madan Kulkarni has asked the deputy commissioners (DCs) to start the drive to send across a tough message.

In Ranchi district, DC Vinay Kumar Choubey is leading the campaign to prevent artificial price rise and hoarding by both retailers as well as wholesalers.

“We have already started the crackdown at local retail markets as well as Pandra Bazaar, the biggest wholesale hub of Ranchi. This drive has already created fear among hoarders,” Choubey claimed.

The Union agriculture ministry on Wednesday imposed control orders on onions and potatoes under the Essential Commodities Act, enabling states to undertake effective de-hoarding drives by fixing stock limits with respect to the two commodities. Every state is free to set its own limits on the basis of its own demand-supply situation.

When asked, Kulkarni said they would discuss the matter with officials of the state food and civil supply department and fix the limits soon.

The Ranchi DC admitted that unless the state specified the limits, it would be difficult to take any punitive action against the hoarders. “Still we are trying our best to curb the menace,” he said.

Notably, the state agriculture department swung into action following complaints of large-scale hoarding and escalating prices.

While onions are sold at Rs 28 per kg against the normal retail rate of Rs 18, potato price has shot up to Rs 24 per kg from Rs 16 per kg at markets in the state capital.

Director of the Jharkhand State Agriculture Marketing Board Amalendu Kumar said the current wholesale price of onions, which are brought from Nasik, was between Rs 1,600 and Rs 1,800 per quintal. Similarly, potatoes, sourced from Bengal, are sold for Rs 1,500 per quintal at the Pandra wholesale market.

“As such retail prices of onions and potatoes should be Rs 22 and Rs 18 per kg, respectively,” he said.

Kumar, who happens to be the secretary of Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC), Pandra, added there had not been any scarcity in the supply side, contrary to what a section of traders had been propagating to dupe common customers.

According to him, Ranchi district is receiving on an average 130 tonnes of onions from Nasik and 267 tonnes of potatoes from neighbouring Bengal every day.

According to Pandra committee members, they send price lists of both onions and potatoes to the agriculture department on a daily basis.

“We are constantly monitoring our 42 wholesalers at Pandra Bazaar Samiti,” said Kumar.

He added that it was not the responsibility of the department and the marketing board only to keep watch on hoarding. “Even consumers should be aware and should protest if they find retailers selling onions say at Rs 30 per kg and potatoes at Rs 25 per kg.”