A vendor sells potatoes, which are likely to vanish from the markets soon, at Kutchery in Ranchi on Thursday. (Hardeep Singh)
Aloo mein phir se aag lag gaya, Ranchi’s Kutchery market vendor Birendra Sao thought aloud on Thursday afternoon as the Bengal ban on the staple tuberous crop had its ripple effect across vegetable mandis and kitchens.
As prices took a leap from Rs 18-20 to Rs 24-26 a kg in most parts of the state, including the capital and Jamshedpur, the humble potato vanished from the lunch plate in many homes, and the abrupt crisis prompted agriculture department mandarins to mull a missive for Mamata Banerjee.
Sao said they were already selling potatoes at Rs 25 a kg and the ban imposed on transportation of the crop outside Bengal by the neighbouring Trinamul Congress government would jack up the rate to Rs 30 per kg very soon.
“In Ranchi, we used to pay Rs 700 for one sack, which contains around 50kg of aloo. Now, the same is selling at Rs 1,100. Also, at least 2-3kg comes rotten. How can we afford to give customers a better rate?” the retailer said.
Shankar Lal, a wholesale trader of potato, onion and garlic from Chaibasa in West Singhbhum, echoed Sao and said that stocks were fast depleting and the potato crisis would only deepen if Bengal did not lift the ban or at least allow a restricted flow of the vegetable to Jharkhand. “Jharkhand should stop supply of green vegetables to Bengal if the Mamata Banerjee government does not mend its ways,” he said.
In Jamshedpur, wholesalers apprehend that the tuber will go poof from markets as early as Friday.
“The price of potato has leaped 20 per cent in a day from Rs 22 to Rs 26 a kg,” said a wholesaler, who was part of a poster-armed group at Bistupur market raising anti-Mamata Banerjee slogans.
“Yeh koi tarika hai jo Mamata Banerjee ne apnaya hai. Rajyon ki aapsi vyapaar se hi desh chalta hai. Lekin Bangal sarkar ne aloo rajya ke bahar le jane par rok laga diya (What kind of a ridiculous stance has Mamata Banerjee adopted. Trade among states helps runs a country. And here, the Bengal government has banned transportation of potatoes),” said Ganesh Shah, another wholesaler.
Shah added that the potato trade had been hit for the past fortnight, but they still managed to sneak in trucks by greasing the palm of border police in Barsole and Chakulia.
“But today (Thursday), not a single truck has crossed the border. Around 19-20 are stranded since Tuesday and police are not relenting even for money we can afford to offer,” he told The Telegraph.
According to wholesalers, each truck brings in 10 tonnes of potatoes in 240 bags. “We buy one bag for Rs 900 and sell the same for Rs 1,300. We have to pay Rs 30,000 as bribe per truck at the border. This is added to the price of potatoes. So, what sold at Rs 16 a kg increased to Rs 22 and now to Rs 26,” Shah explained.
“My kitchen budget has been hit. I have stopped making aloo subzi. If the price of potato continues to soar, I will perhaps have to rethink before adding aloo as an ingredient to other dishes,” said Priti Singh, a homemaker in Bistupur.
Krishi Utpad Samiti secretary Ashok Kumar Sinha confirmed the crisis and said storing potatoes was not an option. “There are no adequate storage facilities,” he said. Located in suburban Parsudih, the Samiti is the main trading centre where consignments are offloaded.
State agriculture department secretary Nitin Madan Kulkarni said there had been no communiqué from Bengal about any restriction or ban on the entry of potatoes from the neighbouring state, from where the tuber reaches different mandis of Jharkhand.
“However, I plan to write to my Bengal counterpart today, giving details of problems faced by the people of our state,” Kulkarni said, adding that they were assessing the situation and trying to find a way out.