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.