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