November 9, 2013

Rocket, not to Mars but in pockets

THE TELEGRAPH, Wednesday, 6th November, 2013

Calcutta, Nov. 5: Vegetable prices have rocketed up to 175 per cent this Bhai Phonta compared with their rates during the festive season last year.

While the prices of onion have doubled in the past 12 months, those of brinjal have almost trebled.

Although prices tend to move northwards during the festive season — from Durga Puja to Chhat — because of a spurt in demand, sources in the agricultural marketing department termed this year’s escalation “unprecedented”.

In an attempt by The Telegraph to capture the extent of price rise, the rates of a select set of vegetables from various Calcutta markets were considered over the past two days and were compared with the prices last year.

The prices of most vegetables were found to have shot up by 80 per cent on average.(See chart)

“I spent Rs 310 on vegetables today. This is the highest I have paid in recent times…. Something must be wrong,” said Sreemoyee Banerjee in Salt Lake’s CA market today.

The chief minister has of late criticised the Centre for failing to contain price rise. Mamata Banerjee had set up a task force to keep prices of essential commodities in the state in check. She had said her government was the only one to have set up such a team.

But the prevailing vegetable prices suggest the task force has failed.

A member of the task force attributed the price rise to untimely rain and the recent floods in the two Midnapores, Howrah and Hooghly, which affected crops across hectares.

“Till a few days ago, there was hardly any harvest in the villages because of heavy rain. The supply dropped, the demand kept rising. The severe mismatch pushed up vegetable prices,” he added.

Another official said hoarding by a section of traders, who form the supply chain between the farmer and the retailer, was also responsible for the price rise.

Middlemen — known as phore in markets — operate in almost all sectors. They play a key role in the supply chain, which makes them eligible for gains from the trade.

According to an official of the agricultural marketing department, the “activism” of the task force is limited to Calcutta markets. But the hoarding usually takes place midway, between the supply of vegetables from the districts and the markets.

Lack of preparation in handling a sudden shortfall — as had happened in the case of potato — is another reason for the spiralling prices, the official said.

“During the Left rule, the government used to buy 12 per cent of the total potatoes in cold storages…. Given the annual production in the range of 90 to 100 lakh tonnes, this would have meant around 10-12 lakh tonnes with the government. A sudden shortfall could have been handled with this,” he added.

The Left government also had an agreement with other potato producers like Punjab and Uttar Pradesh to bail out Bengal during the festive season. In 2009, Bengal bought 10,000 tonnes of the tuber from Punjab.

The government yesterday had promised to provide potatoes at Rs 11 a kg to retailers in 20 Calcutta markets to be sold to consumers at Rs 13. But the potatoes arrived so late, the retailers had left by then. The Jyoti variety was not available while the Chandramukhi sold at Rs 24 a kilo.

Rocket, not to Mars but in pockets.

Rocket, not to Mars but in pockets

Cut off Congressmen's hands: Anubrata Mondal

Debajyoti Chakraborty, TNN Nov 8, 2013, 05.50AM IST

KATWA: On July 17, ahead of the panchayat polls, Trinamool Congress's Birbhum district chief Anubrata Mondal had asked people to burn the houses of independent candidates and beat up policemen if they came to their rescue. The result — large-scale arson and the alleged murder of a rebel Trinamool candidate's father, Hriday Ghosh.

On Wednesday, Anubrata stepped beyond Birbhum, and threatened in Katwa: "If Congress workers continue to tear flex and hoardings of chief minister Mamata Banerjee or beat up Trinamool supporters, our supporters will cut off the wrists of the Congress workers."

On Thursday, the party's national secretary Mukul Roy backed the formidable Trinamool boss in Birbhum. "This is symbolic. It does not mean that Trinamool will attack or kill anyone," he said. Roy also tried to draw Gandhiji's parallel, though it wasn't clear what he meant by it.

Earlier in July, the chief minister tried to defend Anubrata in the Assembly saying , "What is his fault? He has already clarified to the DM (district magistrate) that he did not mean what he said." Anubrata had then said it was a slip of tongue. The clean chit from his party supremo didn't give any succour to Anubrata then. A Birbhum court that ticked off police for not doing its job tagged non-bailable charges against him.

The script is the same this time around. Three Congress leaders of Katwa, including the Katwa Municipality vice chairman, switched ranks to Trinamool Congress in Kolkata on Thursday. In 2009, Congress had swept the Katwa municipal polls 19-0 . Trinamool has been eyeing for a toehold in the Katwa Municipality. Anubrata is also a Trinamool observer for Burdwan, and hence is steering the party's efforts here.

Katwa Municipality vice chairman Amar Ram, former councillors Samindranath Banerjee and Jony Choudhury joined Trinamool on Thursday. Amar claimed that since 1995, the Congress-run Katwa civic board didn't take up any development work. He also complained of Congress workers attacking their supporters that triggered Anubrata's sharp retort. Rabindra Nath Chatterjee, Katwa's Congress MLA, said that he is not bothered what Anubrata Mondal has said. "We have strong base here and such threats will have little effect," he claimed.

Now consider this. Minister of state for railways Adhir Chowdhury had said a near-similar statement in a public rally in Berhampore on October 27. Adhir had then said, "You (Trinamool and police) like to threaten us. But we don't care. I will smash your heads if you try to terrorize my party supporters and activists." This prompted Murshidabad district magistrate Y Ratnakar Rao to report about it to the State Election Commission ( SEC) on November 1. The police then lodged a case under section 171C of the IPC (undue influence at elections ) and Adhir had to appear in court and take bail.

Anubrata, however, is luckier.

Cut off Congressmen's hands: Anubrata

Potato vanishes from Kolkata markets

TNN Nov 5, 2013, 02.06AM IST

KOLKATA/CHINSURAH/MIDNAPORE: It's not often that you see potatoes - or any vegetable - being sold under police guard but that's what happened in Manicktala market on Monday as potatoes disappeared from Kolkata's bazaars.

Most potato traders didn't even open shop on Monday morning and the few who did had little to sell. The largest selling Jyoti variety had vanished - the government wants retailers to sell this at Rs 13/kg. Chandramukhi potato sold for Rs 20-22 and even that disappeared quickly. Buyers at very few markets had the option of newly harvested potato - at Rs 40 a kilo. Not quite the post-Diwali pre-Bhai Phonta surprise they wanted.

This was largely the picture all over the state on Monday. Potato stocks didn't move out of cold storages and major wholesale markets in Hooghly, Bankura, West Midnapore and Burdwan remained closed.

Tuesday will be just as bad. Cold storage owners say traders haven't submitted mandatory requisitions for Tuesday. The new crop from Punjab's Hoshiyarpur and Una has just started entering Kolkata but it isn't enough.

Manicktala market was witness to bizarre scenes on Monday as hundreds stood in queue in front of a truck to buy potato at the government-approved rate. A team of policemen, with an armed officer, kept watch.

A few metres away, potato shops were deserted. Some traders slept on the benches, next to stacks of empty potato baskets. "Unless we receive supplies, what can we sell," said one of them, looking sleepily at the crowd jostling in front of the truck.

The potatoes were available in packets of 3 kg and 5kg. The queue often got disrupted when someone would ask for more. Then, the police would step in. "The government is providing you potatoes at the cheapest rates. Why do you want all of it yourself?" thundered an officer, who later identified himself to be from Enforcement Branch.

Another officer, in Kolkata Police uniform and a revolver in holster, directed the queue. Even the heat of the afternoon, the queue stretched to outside the market. When asked where else they would sell the government potatoes, the man handing out the packets said: "Many markets in north Kolkata. We'll go to Salt Lake tomorrow..." He was cut short by the one taking the money: "Don't expect normalcy before Wednesday. We can't make Bhai Phonta any sweeter for you."

There is more than enough potato in cold storages but things won't improve until Wednesday when the government is expected to move in and get these stocks released to the markets. On Tuesday, the government will send two trucks, carrying 2,000kg potato each, to the KMC markets department, which will send them to municipal markets in five zones. "KMC will sell it to retailers at Rs 11/kg, allowing them a profit of Rs 2/kg," said Tarak Singh, mayoral council member, markets.

The police crackdown on black marketing continues. Seventeen traders were arrested in Midnapore and Hooghly for allegedly selling potato at higher rates.

Potato vanishes from Kolkata markets

November 6, 2013

West Bengal’s ban on vegetable exports is retrograde

ET Bureau Nov 4, 2013, 04.37AM IST

KOLKATA: Mamata Banerjee has imposed a ban on export of vegetables from Bengal, creating shortages, particularly of potatoes, in the north-east and in some neighbouring states.

This not only works to the disadvantage of farmers in her own state but also against the idea of India as one coherent economic and political entity. If Punjab were to clamp down on export of wheat and rice from the state, Maharashtra of onions and Gujarat of petrochemicals, the result would be loss and chaos. Such bans are irrational and anti-national. Banerjee should lift the ban.

This does not mean that state governments should play passive observers as artificial shortage crimps their citizens' consumption of vegetables. On the contrary. State governments can and must launch a concerted intelligence drive to locate missing onions and potatoes, crack down hard on hoarders and bring the hoarded stocks to the market swiftly. There have been minor rain-induced problems in production and transport but initial estimates are that the onion crop in the current marketing year would be as much as 15% higher than the output of 16.3 million tonnes registered in 2012-13.

The structure of the onion market is extremely skewed and amenable to abuse by a few large traders, found a study commissioned by the Competition Commission of India, published in October 2012.

Some speculate the current shortage is the result of political manipulation, in which onions have been bought up, secreted away in empty flats, to feed anti-incumbency passions in a key consuming state like Delhi. Since farmers receive as little as Rs 5 a kg, the outlay on sequestering a million tonnes for a month is the cost of financing Rs 500 crore, if the principal onion traders cooperate. The governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka should actively get to the bottom of the onion shortage.

The Centre should issue strict warnings against the tendency to play the populist card displayed by the Bengal CM. At the same time, it has to initiate action to clean up the structure of agri-marketing, which today serves middlemen at the expense of farmers and consumers.

Soon, photo I-cards must for buying acid in West Bengal

By Sabyasachi Bandopdhyay : kolkata, Indian Express, Wed Nov 06 2013, 10:42 hrs

Buyers of any kind of acid for any purpose will now have to produce photo identity cards at shops, as the government is going to introduce stringent rules to control sale and possession of acid.

The rules include providing compensation of Rs 3 lakh to an acid attack victim, free medical treatment for them and reservation of beds for them at government hospitals, to name a few.

The state is amending Poison Act of 1919 to frame these rules. The draft rules, prepared by the Home Department, are now with the law department for vetting.

The government has taken this initiative following a directive from the Union Home Ministry to all state governments in September. The MHA did this in the wake of a Supreme Court directive to the central government to control sale and possession of acid.

Though no official figures are available, according to statistics provided by various NGOs and academic institutions, more than 150 attacks took place in India in the last 10-12 years. In West Bengal, in the last 10 years, 50 such attacks took place.

"We have framed new rules to control sale of acid. Photo-identity cards will be a must while purchasing acid,'' a Home Department official told The Indian Express.

In Kolkata, acid is sold at hardware shops and hardly any enquiry is done ahead of their purchase.

While a 750-ml bottle of nitric acid is sold for Rs 60, a bottle of similar quantity of sulphuric acid costs Rs 50. And a-500 ml bottle of Hydrochloric acid costs Rs 22. First two kinds are mostly used by mischief mongers.

"We usually do not sell acid to absolutely unknown persons but sometimes it is not possible to know the identity of the buyer. If the government introduces photo ID cards, it will be good for us,'' Arun Karmakar, a shopkeeper at Dum Dum told The Indian Express.