Trying out all possible ways to control pulse prices that have neared Rs 200 per kg, the Centre on Monday decided to set up a committee to relook at the minimum support price and bonus to promote pulse cultivation.
While increasing the size of the buffer stock of pulses to 20 lakh tonnes from the existing 8 lakh tonnes, the government decided to explore avenues for imports from more pulse-growing nations on a government-to-government basis.
These decisions were taken at a meeting of a high-powered ministerial team headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley here. Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu were present. Briefing media after the meeting, Paswan said: "The government has decided to set up a committee under the chief economic advisor to frame a long-term policy on pulses, which will look into various options, including MSP and bonus."
The committee will re-examine the MSP and bonus being given to pulse growers at present and frame an appropriate policy to promote cultivation of lentils in India, he said. "In my sense, production bonus is more fruitful as compared to MSP," Paswan said, adding that the panel will submit the report within two weeks.
The government has already announced a sharp increase in MSP of kharif pulses for the 2016-17 crop year. It is to be seen if the government would announce more incentives for pulse growers based on the panel's report for the ongoing kharif season or consider it for the rabi season.
Besides this, Paswan said, the government has decided to increase the size of the pulse buffer stock to 20 lakh tonnes from the existing 8 lakh tonnes for this year. Already, the government has procured over 1.19 lakh tonnes of pulses like tur in the 2016-17 crop year (July-June), which is being given to state governments for retail distribution at a subsidised rate of Rs 120 per kg.
"Because of the lacklustre attitude of state governments, the image of the central government is being tarnished. I am again making appeal to all states to lift pulses from us. They have infrastructure for the solution," Paswan stressed.
To address domestic shortage through imports, the minister added that the government has decided to talk to other pulse-growing countries like Canada for long-term import of lentils on a government-to-government basis.
"We are negotiating with various countries. We are progressing fast on that," he said. India has already signed an agreement with African nation Mozambique for import of tur dal up to 2 lakh tonnes in next five years. It is negotiating with Myanmar.
The minister also expressed confidence that the pulse prices will start cooling in the next 2-3 months as domestic production is estimated to be higher at 20 million tonnes this year, as against a little over 17 mt in 2015-16. "According to the Agriculture Ministry's report, pulse output is expected to go up to 20 million tonnes this year from 17 million tonnes. The gap in supply-demand will come down. Price would ease in the next 2-3 months," Paswan hoped.
To tame pulse prices, the Centre has taken several steps, including imposition of stock limits on traders to check hoarding and imports. He added that except for chana, there has not been a rise in prices of other pulses over the last two months.
He singled out hoarding for sharp increase in chana prices. "The prices will come down to an extent what we have seen in sugar," Paswan added. "The committee expressed concern over prices of chana dal and in spite of good production, prices are on the higher side. It was of the opinion that the state government should take strict action to ensure availability at reasonable prices."
The country is facing a shortage of 7.6 mt of pulses because domestic output stands at 17 mt while annual demand is estimated to be 24.6 mt. The deficit is met through imports.
Private imports are expected to take care of 5.8 mt, which means there will be a gap of 1.8 mt. As per government data, retail urad dal price is ruling as high as Rs 198 per kg, tur at Rs 170, moong at Rs 130 and gram at Rs 110 on Monday.