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Better policy approach needed to check price rise

Photo: Samarendra Sarma
 GUWAHATI, April 29 - When the spiralling prices of almost all the commodities are burning holes in the common man’s pockets, Assam being an importing State of all the essential commodities, needs a better policy approach and market regulation to minimize people’s sufferings, rather than the temporary measures taken by the administration at local levels, which prove to be too little, too late.

Skyrocketing prices of the essential kitchen staples let loose a blame game on unethical business practices, trader-politician nexus et al. However, none of these minimizes the burden on the common man, who is at the receiving end of the entire process.

Prices of staples like pulses, sugar and potatoes have gone up exorbitantly in recent months, pulses being in the headlines for the past one year, with the rate hike at the source being cited as the main reason. However, an analysis of the wholesale and the retail market rates of Guwahati clearly points out the absence of a mechanism to rein in the last leg of the supply chain – the retailers.

Potato price, which has gone up from Rs 10-12 per kg a few weeks back to a current rate of Rs 12.50 to 15.50 in wholesale market is likely to go up further by the end of the next month.

“Currently, potatoes are coming here from Farukhabad and North Bengal, which meet the demand, despite the rate hike at the source of production. However, the supply from other States would go down by the next month and potatoes stored in the cold storages would come in to the market, that would add up around Rs 2, to the existing rates,” said Ashok Khandelwal, a wholesale trader of Fancy Bazar.

As per the regular rate statement submitted to the Deputy Commission of Kamrup (Metro) by the Kamrup Chamber of Commerce, the wholesale rate of medium variety of masoor dal is Rs 77-81 per kg (estimated in quintals in wholesale trade) as on April 21, 2016. The small variety is being sold at Rs 90-98. In retails, the small variety is being sold at Rs 110 to 120 per kg (varying as per markets and the shops). In the year 2014, the bulk rate started from Rs 53 in January to Rs 75 in December. In 2015, it went up to Rs 74 in January to Rs 91 in December, showing a quantum jump.

Rahar dal, which is generally the most expensive of the pulses, has the recent bulk rate of Rs 118-138, which is being sold at the rate of Rs 150-155 in the retails. The rates have jumped up from Rs 58-65 in January 2014.

Moong dal bulk rate is Rs 90-100 in Guwahati wholesale market in the current month. It was Rs 76-80 in 2014, and Rs 97-99 in 2015. Retail rate of moong dal in Guwahati is Rs 115.

Sugar that comes to Assam mainly from Maharashtra and from Karnataka to some extent has a current bulk rate of Rs 38.50 to 39.50. The retail rate is Rs 44 per kg.

Mustard oil comes from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and is being sold at Rs 71 to Rs 91 per litre in the bulk. The common people, mostly buying the packaged oil, however, are paying anywhere between Rs 120 to 132 per litre.

Countering the allegation of unfair trade practices, president of the KCC, Mahavir Jain argued that the wholesale markets were more regulated and monitored in the State. “Nowadays, it is not difficult for authorities or even a customer to get the source rate of any commodity, which makes easy the comparison. Furthermore, the increased freight rates and transition damage are some other things, which should be taken into account while price analysing. It is also up to the customer to be aware of the wholesale rates and demand a rational deal from the shopkeepers,” he said.

“We submit the rate details to the district administration weekly or even daily sometimes, which could be easily cross-checked,” he said, adding that the Central government should also take planned decisions on importing commodities like pulses, foreseeing the demand-supply situation of the country.

Tilak Nath, a retailer in Chandmari area, however, demanded that the authorities should maintain a rational balance between the bulk and retail prices, so that neither wholesalers nor the retailers can charge unfair rates.

“Assam bears the brunt of the being an importing State of all essential commodities, with no government policy targeted towards self sufficiency in any of the commodities. Increased rates of essential commodities though make a temporary ruckus among the people and the media; the larger issues related to policy decision are often brushed under the carpet,” said DN Sarma, a school teacher and a consumer from Ulubari area.

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