July 16, 2012

Veg price sky-rockets, no control over pricing

Krishnendu Bandyopadhyay, TNN | Jun 21, 2012, 08.07 PM IST

KOLKATA: The delayed monsoon has got vegetable price spiralling. Moreover, middlemen in the agro-marketing network of the state adding woes to plight of common men by maximising profit with a yawning gap between wholesale market price and that of the retail markets.

The agricultural marketing minister Arup Roy admitted that middle-men have once again been playing havoc with the price of perishable commodities in urban an semi-urban markets. ""There is a task force to monitor the price. I have to check out what their findings are. I am indeed anxious with the price getting out of control. I will hold an emergency meeting on Monday," he added.

Besides, the task force a ministerial committee was formed to keep a tab on the commodity price at different markets. The committee has animal resource minister Nur-e-Alam Chowdhury, agricultural marketing minister Arup Roy and food processing minister Ujjwal Biswas.

The delayed monsoon has already taking toll of agriculture productions. Excessive heat and lack of rain has led to drying up of lot of agricultural products. Vegetables like parwal is the biggest victim of this extreme weather, said Shankar Kamila, secretary of agriculture marketers association. A lot of vegetables could not be sent to market from the fields.

But much of this price-rise was engineered artificially by middle-men. The yawning gap between the wholesale and retail price is one of indicators how the chain of middle-men are causing price-rise at their will. Two chains of middlemen work one between the farmers and whole-sellers and other from whole-sellers and retailers.

"Even though the chain between the whole-seller and retailer is a shorter one, the price difference can show the lack of monitoring on the markets by the government," said Amit Sinha, a consumers' rights activist.

According to whole-sale and retail marketing sources, the gap between the wholesale and retail price of perishable commodities are gradually increasing with the time. If the whole-sale price of parwal is Rs 8 per kg, it is selling at anything between Rs 20 and 30 at retail markets. It is worse for okra. The wholesale price is Rs 8-9, but the retail price is Rs 30-40.

In case of potato and onion, which are more-or-less regulated and can be stocked in cold-storage, the retail and wholesale price difference is not that huge. However, Patit Paban De, a potato expert said, ""The potato price is expected to rise further with a huge loss of productivity is south India.

""Some vegetables prices have gone up so high that it has been becoming increasingly difficult to strike a balance in the food budget for most of the buyers,"" said Rabindranath Koley of Kankurgachhi VIP market. The green chili has crossed Rs 100 per kg. I can't remember this happening in my life-time, he added.

Why is this gap ever widening? According to a senior officer, the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee earlier took the price-rise seriously. She visited some markets and asked the chief secretary Samar Ghosh to inquire into the abnormal price rise. The government then periodically checked the market price and carried out raids. It yielded results. But with the time, that monitoring mechanism got rusty.

Highway toll hike to push up prices

TNN | Jun 21, 2012, 01.09AM IST

KOLKATA: Fuel prices haven't alone pushed up transportation costs. A steep rise in toll by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is also responsible. However, transporters complained that the hike is not uniform across toll plazas and thus creates confusion. Such a steep rise, transporters said, would result in a further price rise of all commodities.

According to NHAI memo 13013/630/CO/1112 /GC, dated March 31, 2012, toll taxes have been modified upwards. However, for transporters, the toll fees have not been uniformly modified. For instance, on National Highway II, a truck had to cough up Rs 165 to cross each toll plaza. Now, it needs to pay Rs 265 at Dhulagarh toll plaza and Rs 245 while crossing Debra toll plaza.

In case of mini buses, too, the toll has risen from Rs 85 to Rs 120. For small cars, it has gone up from Rs 30 to Rs 75. "Naturally, the end-users like you and me are the ultimate victims of such upward revision of toll tax. Earlier, from Kolkata to Mumbai, we had to pay Rs 2,500 as toll tax per trip per carriage. Now, we are paying a little more than Rs 4,000," said Satyajit Majumdar, general secretary of Federation of West Bengal Truck Owners' Association.

"The problem is, NHAI does not maintain any transparency as far as its toll revisions are concerned. We have been demanding for uniform toll across the country. This would leave little room for confusion. But that has not been done," said Shyamal Dasgupta, general secretary of Truck Owners' Association.

The problem is even worse for short-trip makers like buses. "By paying Rs 85, we used to have multiple passages through a toll plaza in a span of 12 hours. But now, we have to cough up Rs Rs 120 for one up and one down trip. Even if we have time to cross the toll plaza once more, we have to pay Rs 120 again. This has made our situation very difficult with bus fares remaining constant over the years," said Mini Bus operator Shiladitya Sarkar.

According to NHAI sources, the upward revision of the toll is due to escalation of cost for maintenance and road construction. NHAI has outsourced the collection of toll across the country.

The highways ministry expects approximately Rs 840 crore rise in toll revenue from roads and bridges on national highways (NH), as more stretches come under the toll network. Toll revenue may touch Rs 3,627 crore in 2012-13 from Rs 3,554 crore during the last financial year, because of this upward revision.

Almost 95% of this revenue will come from roads owned by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). Sources in the authority said the increase in toll revenue also includes the premium that NHAI has got from awarding projects in 2011 and 2012. The authority has earned at least Rs 2,300 crore as premium from awarding projects during the current financial year.

The premium is the amount that private developers pay annually to the NHAI. Moreover, the annual premium amount increases by 5% for the entire concession period. "We also expect more stretches, which we will be awarding to private players for maintenance and collecting toll to private developers will fetch premium. We will have enough funds to take care of our financial needs for the next fiscal year. We have also raised Rs 10,000 crore from the markets with us for investment," said a senior NHAI official. He added that the impact of premium would be visible in the next 2-3 years. NHAI also expects revenues from fuel cess for highways sector to be around Rs 8,400 crore in 2012-13.

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