Nov. 14: Spiral queues for pricey salt selling at as high as Rs 120 per kg following a rumour over its shortage today triggered bitterness in some parts of north Bihar.
Police resorted to baton charge at Pupari, a sub-divisional town in Sitamarhi district, to disperse the gathering of salt-buyers. Additional forces were deployed and raids were conducted to prevent hoarding of salt packets.
The rumour started from Samastipur after a report was published in a vernacular daily apprehending price rise in the wake of closure of most of the salt-producing units in Odisha after Phailin hit the state last month. As soon as the shops in Samastipur town opened today, a number of people started buying salt. The message spread like wildfire to neighbouring districts Muzaffarpur, Madhubani and Sitamarhi and the shopkeepers started selling salt packets at exorbitant rates.
Samastipur sub-divisional officer (SDO) Sudhir Kumar said a person was arrested from the Station Road area on the charge of selling salt at Rs 30-40 per kg. “Raids have been launched to prevent the crisis,” he told The Telegraph.
Residents, however, claimed that salt was sold for Rs 100 per kg in some parts of the district, around 100km northeast of Patna. “This is a man-made crisis and stern action would be taken against the rumour-mongers and those involved in hoarding,” the SDO said.
The market price of iodised salt is around Rs 20 per kg.
Panic gripped the residents of few other districts as well. The shopkeepers started charging Rs 150 per kg for salt at Pupari, the sub-divisional town in Sitamarhi district, around 150km north of Patna. The situation took an ugly turn after some buyers thrashed a shopkeeper.
Sitamarhi superintendent of police P.K. Sinha said the situation was brought under control after the intervention of the police and the civil officials of the town. He said an appeal had been made to the people to not to get panicky because there was no crisis of salt in the district. “The appeal has been made through the public address system on the directive of the district magistrate,” he said.
Three petty shopkeepers were detained in Muzaffarpur for selling salt for Rs 100 per kg. They were taken into custody during raids conducted by the district officials headed by SDO (East) Sunil Kumar. Muzaffarpur district magistrate Anupam Kumar also ordered to initiate action against the rumour mongers.
At Hajipur in Vaishali district, salt was sold for Rs 80-90 per kg.
The panic among the residents can be gauged from the maidservant of an SP posted in a north Bihar district purchasing 10kg of salt from a shop to avoid the crisis. The wife of the officer told him that her maidservant purchased the additional salt packets when the latter went to buy vegetables.
Principal secretary of food and consumer protection department Shishir Sinha said he enquired about the supply of salt from Odisha and found there was neither any shortage, nor disruption in the supply of the commodity from that state. “This is purely an artificial crisis,” he said.
Claiming that there was no salt shortage in the state, food and consumer protection minister Shyam Rajak blamed communal forces for the crisis. “Instructions have been given to the officers concerned to lodge cases under the Essential Commodities Act against hoarders,” he said, adding that three persons had been arrested.
Echoing Rajak, general secretary of Iodised Namak Aapurti-Karta Sangh (INAKS) R.K. Mishra said: “There is no shortage of salt in the state.”