Appeal to govt to lift ban on potato export - Traders in Hooghly and Burdwan say they have taken advance payments from other states

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By ABHIJEET CHATTERJEE AND INDRANIL SARKAR ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY OUR ODISHA BUREAU
  • Published 11.11.13
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Nov. 10: Potato traders in Hooghly and Burdwan, the two biggest producers of the crop in Bengal, have appealed to the government to lift the ban on export of the tuber to other states as they have taken advance payments for consignments.

The traders said they were losing goodwill for their failure to deliver the consignments within the stipulated time.

The potato traders in the two districts sell half their produce every year to Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

The Bengal government has banned the export of potatoes after a shortage pushed up prices of the tuber in the state.

Earlier this week, police stopped at the Duburdih checkpost in Burdwan’s Kulti 23 trucks carrying 300 tonnes of potatoes to Jharkhand. The trucks had valid challans.

The traders were paid Rs 11.60 a kg and the potatoes were sold in retail markets in Asansol at Rs 13 a kg, a price pegged by the chief minister. The traders were supposed to sell the consignment at Rs 15 a kg in Jharkhand.

Sagar Sarkar, the president of the Burdwan chapter of the West Bengal Progressive Potato Traders’ Association, said: “We have appealed to the agri-marketing department to allow us to export potatoes to other states as many of us have already taken advance payments for consignments.

“Over the years, we have developed good working relations with potato traders in other states. But we are losing goodwill because of the ban.”

Asked if export of potatoes would push up prices in Bengal further, Sarkar said around 25 lakh tonnes of the crop were lying in 440 cold storages across the state. Denying there was a shortage, he said the stocks were enough for Bengal’s consumption in the next two months.

“Cultivation of potatoes for this season has begun. The new crop will reach the markets in two months. On top of that, 25 lakh tonnes of potatoes are lying in cold storages. A huge quantity of the crop will rot if we don’t export now,” Sarkar said.

Traders said the demand for potatoes in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu had shot up as cultivation there had been affected by Cyclone Phailin in September.

The association said around 17,000 potato traders in Hooghly and Burdwan would incur a loss of Rs 250 crore if the ban was not lifted.

“We usually export the super S1, super six and K22 varieties of Jyoti potato to other states as their demand in Bengal is less,” said Ashok Makal, the secretary of the association’s Hooghly chapter.

An agri-marketing department official in Burdwan, Priyadarshi Sen, said he had received a letter from the potato traders, requesting that the ban be lifted. “I have forwarded the letter to my superiors,” he said.

Agri-marketing minister Arup Roy declined comment, saying the chief minister was looking after the department.

This year, the agri-marketing department has set a target of producing 22.18 tonnes of potatoes in Burdwan and 33 lakh tonnes in Hooghly. Traders said both districts were expected to exceed the target.

People protesting Bengal’s decision to ban potato export blocked two national highways in Odisha’s Balasore for three hours yesterday, stopping trucks carrying fish and other commodities to Bengal.

The Odisha government said no truck carrying potatoes reached the state from Bengal today.

Bengal Opposition leader Surjya Kanta Mishra of the CPM accused chief minister Mamata Banerjee of “inept handling” of the potato crisis. “The decision to stop trucks going to Odisha and Jharkhand with pototoes is a step in the wrong direction,” he said.