Rising prices of pulses, gram keep govt anxious

New Delhi: Even as the central government announced increase in buffer stock for pulses to eight lakh tonnes, escalating prices of Urad, Tur, gram and Kabli gram remained a cause for its concern. After a high-powered ministerial team headed by union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley met in the capital on Wednesday, the government decided to increase the buffer stocks to eight lakh tonnes as against original target of 1.5 lakh tonnes to control the prices. The government has also decided to import pulses from Myanmar and some African countries.  However, the Food Ministry was sceptical even on Thursday about immediate relief from the skyrocketing prices as the states are not showing much enthusiasm for procuring pulses from the buffer stock. The government has so far prepared a stock of 1.15 lakh tonnes and is also offloading pulses to the states for retail distribution at a cheaper rate. The Centre has urged states to procure pulses from the buffer stock at a subsidised rate of Rs 66 per kg and sell in retail markets at Rs 120 per kg. On Wednesday union Food and Public Distribution Minister Ram Vilas Paswan had flagged the state, saying, "In federal structure, states also have their responsibility."  Over 10,000 tonnes have been released to the states, including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu, for retail distribution so far. According to data of the Food and Consumer Affairs Ministry, the maximum retail price of Urad has shot up to Rs 196 per kg, while for Tur it was at Rs 166 per kg, official sources said here on Thursday. The wholesale price for the smaller variety of Kabli gram increased to touch Rs 8,000-9,500 per quintal. Other special brands of gram also shot up significantly in the last few days, the food ministry sources said. The retail price for Moong remained at Rs 120 per kg and for Masoor the price ranged around Rs 105 per kg. Meanwhile, sources said gram shortages have resulted in rise in its retail price of around Rs 94 per kg while the wholesale price in Delhi market jumped to Rs 700 per quintal. There have been reports of speculative buying by stockists, sources said. In the wholesale market, the price of gram increased to Rs 7,000-7,500 from Rs 6,300-6,950 per quintal. The wholesale price of Urad rose to Rs 10,600-12,100; price of small variety Masoor increased to Rs 6,050-6,350; and that of Arhar notched up to Rs 9,200 per quintal. India is the largest producer of pulses but also the biggest consumer. Production of pulses is likely to decline to 17.06 million tonnes in 2015-16 crop year (July-June) due to two consecutive years of drought, while the national demand stands at around 23.5 million tonnes, the ministry sources said. Sources also said to meet the growing demand of chickpeas (chana), the country imports over 70 per cent of its requirement from Australia. The central government is also likely to work out a government-to-government contract for import of pulses, including chickpeas, from Myanmar. Chickpeas imports in the last financial year 2015-16 touched about 10.31 lakh tonnes -- over 100 per cent jump compared to the previous fiscal 2014-15.