Fuel & Essential Commodities Price Rise as Assam Election Potboiler

Rising prices of fuel and essential commodities are burning holes in pockets of consumers across the country.
Fuel & Essential Commodities Price Rise as Assam Election Potboiler

Rising prices of fuel and essential commodities are burning holes in pockets of consumers across the country. Spiralling prices are poised to overshadow all other issues in the poll-bound states including Assam if the situation does not ease. Hike in petrol and diesel prices have neutralized the little relief provided by the Assam government by way of withdrawal of additional cess of 25 per cent imposed during peak of COVID-19 pandemic. Petrol and diesel became cheaper by Rs 5 a litre after withdrawal of additional cess with effect from February 12. Price of petrol came down from Rs 90.41 a litre to Rs 85.41 and diesel price came down from Rs. 84.29 to Rs. 79.29. Since then, the prices of petrol and fuel have risen again and are inching towards touching the same levels eroding the benefit of reduction. Steep hike in price of non-subsidised domestic LPG cylinders has also contributed to pushing up the household budgets. It has risen by Rs 50 to Rs 868 in Guwahati in March and more than Rs 900 in some places. Over the past six months the domestic LPG price has increased by Rs 175 while the subsidy has been steady at Rs 52.57 since October. In May 2020, each domestic LPG cylinder cost Rs 573 indicating how the rising prices have affected the capability of poor and downtrodden families in seeking refills. Price of 19 kg cylinder for commercial use has increased to Rs 1,727 adversely affecting the business of eateries, hotels and restaurant, street food vendors as well as industrial units. Exorbitant prices of food items including pulses, edible oil, meat, fish, vegetables, eggs have made it difficult for many households to make both ends meet. The drastic cut down in consumption of these food items compelled by rising prices is having adverse impact on health, more particularly on children and ailing as it has turned the household diet less nutritious and deficient on protein supplement. The benefits under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, the flagship programme of the Central government of providing LPG connections free of cost to women aged over 18 and above belonging to Below Poverty Line families is getting eroded as many beneficiaries have not been able to seek refills due to high prices of domestic LPG cylinders. A stimulus of providing subsidies for LPG refill to beneficiaries of Ujjawala till the price situation eases is also critical to achieving the desired results under various poverty reduction scheme to alleviate the condition of BPL families. The argument advanced by the Assam government behind rise in prices of food items including edible oil is that the state is dependent on supplies from other states to meet the growing demand of consumers as it does not produce enough to cater to the local demands. As a result, the prices in the state go up when prices go up at the source. Such an argument only reflects the failures of the successive governments in the state in agriculture and horticulture sectors. Farmers and growers do not get remunerative prices of their produces forcing them to go for distress selling. The distress in the sectors have made farming less attractive. Rising price of diesel has added to input cost as use of tractors, shallow tube well pumps has increased due to government pushing farm mechanisation to increase production and for multi-cropping. Use of diesel-run carriage vans has raised the cost of transporting farm produce to the markets. Price monitoring mechanisms require drastic haul to prevent unscrupulous traders from inflating the prices in the wholesale and retail markets. Ironically, while consumers are made to purchase the commodities at exorbitant prices, the farmers have remained from remunerative prices which have made farming less attractive for rural youth and they are migrating to different states in search of alternative livelihoods. Isolated success stories of entrepreneurial ventures in agriculture and horticultural sectors are not enough unless the marginal farmers who constitute the majority of the farm households in Assam are not provided hand holding support to sustain farming activities. Distress in farm sectors is gradually creating a vicious cycle of underproduction as it leads to increased dependence on other states pushing up the demand against supplies triggering spells of price hike. The situation is too critical to be reduced to mere election promises. Opposition parties raking up the issue as a major poll plank must come up with concrete solutions and road map to address it. Ruling alliance partners also cannot ignore the issue and must come up with effective measures to rescue the farm sector from distress towards to attract large number of unemployed youths to take up farming as livelihood option. With no immediate relief in sight, the rising prices of essential commodities has become a pot boiler of assembly elections in Assam.

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