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Soaring prices of essential commodities

Spiralling prices of essential commodities have sent the household budget for a toss in Assam when people are grappling with financial hardship caused by partial lockdown in the state on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

essential commodities

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  2021-05-27T10:15:15+05:30

Spiralling prices of essential commodities have sent the household budget for a toss in Assam when people are grappling with financial hardship caused by partial lockdown in the state on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers are paying through the nose to buy edible oil, a must in Indian kitchens. Some of the mustard oil brands are selling at Rs 183 to Rs 190 a litre while refined sunflower oil is selling at Rs 220 or more in the retail market. The price of the egg is also surging and one tray of 210 eggs is selling at Rs. 1420 or more at the wholesale markets. This has shot the retail price of one egg to Rs 8 as retail traders also keep in mind the quantity of rotten or damaged eggs in the lot while fixing the selling price. Prices of lentil, yellow lentil and other split pulses have also risen adding to the daily household budget. The absence of a strong price monitoring mechanism allows unscrupulous traders to take advantage of emergencies like prevailing pandemic and hike the prices. The Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs department holds meetings with traders' associations when consumers make hue and cry over the price hike and such meetings fail to come up with an effective long-term solution. Instead of putting in place a robust and transparent system of fixing the wholesale and retail prices of essential commodities, the meeting focuses more on providing temporary relief to consumers through ad-hoc measures. One argument put forward by the State government and traders to justify the hike in prices of commodities is that Assam does not produce most of these essential commodities and need to procure from other states to meet the market demands. This pushes the prices up when the price goes up at the source. However, the state lacks a transparent mechanism to prevent corrupt traders from hoarding stocks procured at lower prices and selling at exorbitant prices in the pretext of a price hike at source markets. The argument that farmers in the state do not have a marketable surplus to meet the demands in urban areas is also erroneous. Consumers buying vegetables procured from other states at high prices in Guwahati city and other urban areas when enormous quantities of vegetables produced by farmers in the state are rotting in the fields. Some farmers have not been able to harvest the produce as traders have not gone to buy them while huge quantities harvested and stocked at home by some farmers have started rotting causing them huge financial losses. The agriculture and horticulture department failed to draw lessons from similar situations of the first wave of pandemic and nationwide lockdown. Special arrangements of procuring the farm produce besides poultry products in some areas during the first wave proved beneficial for the producers, traders and consumers. Making similar arrangements during the current wave as soon as the restrictions on market hours, weekly markets were enforced could have prevented such losses of farm produce. Farmers toiled hard at the fields throughout the season to grow crops and if they are unable to sell and get remunerative prices it pushes them to penury and goes for distress selling. One way of preventing such losses is helping rural entrepreneurs to set up food processing industries. Pumpkins rotting in vast stretches of orchard should be an eye-opener for the rural youth to avail opportunities provided by Food Processing Ministry to set up processing units. According to Persistence Market Research, the demand for pumpkin powder derived from the dried pumpkin is increasing in the global food and beverage markets because of its health benefits and as a flavoured ingredient. Demand for pumpkin seeds- organic dried as well as roasted is also growing among health-conscious global citizens. Similarly, organic bottler gourd powder has high demand and can help farmers benefit from value addition if processing industries are set up along the value chain. Apart from preventing losses due to a decline in market demand for raw farm produce, the food processing industries will generate local employment at the village level. This in turn can also reverse the migration of rural youth who leave their villages due to far distress and migrate to cities and urban areas within the state as well as outside the state. The impact of the generation of local employment and increase in income in farm families will strengthen the rural economy of the state. While these could be long term solutions, the state government cannot lose sight of the distress condition in rural areas in the prevailing pandemic situation, and it is imperative to find short-term solutions to provide immediate relief. Rising prices of diesel have also added to price hike as it has pushed transportation cost of farm produce upward. Market disruptions could be worse during the impending flood season amidst the pandemic situation.

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