Arbitrary Handling of Potato Crisis
From Our Special Correspondent in Kolkata POTATO prices, along with the skyrocketing prices of other vegetables, have squeezed the consumers to the last. Inept and directionless handling of the situation by the state government has not only created distress in West Bengal, it had also produced unfortunate tensions in neighbouring states. West Bengal produces largest quantity of potatoes in the country. Despite that, potato prices began to rise in October and reached as high as Rs 18 to Rs 29 per kg. After long silence, the state government declared that the maximum price would be Rs 13, already a rise of around Rs 5. The retail sellers were targeted and within few days potato vanished from the market. Despite rhetoric, the chief minister did not touch the speculative traders and big wholesale businessmen. The state government even did not try to clear the stock in the cold storages. The futile attempt to sell potatoes directly by the state agencies were restricted to big markets in Kolkata, that too only symbolically. The steps led to a situation where the potato farmers are deprived of fair prices and there are serious indications that they will be forced to resort to distress sale in the coming season. West Bengal produces about 10 million tonnes of potatoes every year. Of this, only 5.5 million tonnes are domestically consumed. At present, close to 1.4 million tonnes of potatoes and potato seeds are in cold storage. In the next two months, the total consumption of both would not be more than 1.2 million tonnes. The hoarding and speculative business led to higher prices for the consumers and declining prices for the cultivators. On the other hand, West Bengal state administration has banned potato trading outside the state. Police cracked down and stopped dozens of potato laden trucks from leaving Bengal. This has led to acute shortage of potatoes in Odisha and Jharkhand in particular. West Bengal is the largest supplier of potatoes to Odisha, sending some 350 to 400 truckloads daily. The ban has resulted in spiraling prices in Odisha. The request from Odisha chief minister to ease the ban has been rejected. In a disturbing incident, activists in Odisha blocked trucks from Andhra Pradesh headed for West Bengal with fish and eggs. Suryakanta Misra, opposition leader in West Bengal, has urged both the states to discuss and resolve the crisis. Misra said, unnecessary confrontations would harm people of both the states. There is no viable reason to withhold potatoes in the cold storages now. On the one hand, the people are not getting potatoes and on the other large quantities are being perished in the cold storage.