Millennium Post

Helpless govt

Food prices are growing increasingly unmanageable. The ordinary poor are clueless on how to acquire food for themselves and their families, with the rising prices. To everyone’s surprise, Union Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said that although he feels bad about the situation, things are out of control. Suffice to say, he washed his hands of the crisis saying his department had no “concrete powers” to check the rising inflation. “Consumer Affairs Department does not have any concrete powers to check food inflation,” Paswan said. A market survey reveals that despite government’s tall claims, the prices of pulses like Arhar Dal was hovering between Rs 170 and 190 per kg in the retail market. Price of mustard oil, too, was varying between Rs 135 and Rs 150 per litre in Delhi’s retail markets. Most vegetable items - onion, tomato, potato, peas, spinach, ginger, etc were being sold at all time high rates. Meanwhile, the Centre ordered individual states to take immediate action against the rising prices by imposing stock limits on commodities. State governments have also been asked to conduct raids against private hoarders in order to implement their action against rising prices. Officials at the Food Ministry have been complaining that they do not have enough power to rein in distributors and hoarders and that they need to be given further authority in order to implement the same. State governments, meanwhile, should be responsible in informing the Centre regarding shortcomings in food items. In collusion with the Centre, the states can devise strategies towards bridging the shortfall and make sure basic food necessities are available to all at the best price. Suffice to say, there is a grain of truth in Paswan’s claims. His Ministry currently monitors the price of 22 essential food items. Moreover, it can ask states to impose stock holding limits and issue directions against hoarders. Other aspect of food production, however, should be addressed by other branches of the Centre, namely the Ministry of Agriculture, Commerce Ministry and the Ministry of Finance. Without the requisite support of these branches, there is not much the Consumer Affairs Ministry can achieve, especially without the help of state governments. The past year has been witness to poor monsoon in many regions for the second time in a row. This has lead to the obvious dearth of vegetable and their rising prices. Yet again, though, the Centre and respective state governments did not pick up on the warning signs issued by the Met Department for a deficient monsoon months before.  Retail inflation has touched 5 to 5.5 percent gross since an average of 3.8 percent from September to November. The prices of pulses though are of serious concern with a hike of 33.25 percent in all due to the shortfall of production.
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