Alarmed by the sharp spike in prices of pulses, the Centre on Wednesday unveiled a string of measures to boost procurement from the domestic market, step up imports and decided to dispatch a team to major pulses growing countries to stitch together long-term arrangements for smooth supplies.
These measures were decided upon at an inter-ministerial meet chaired by finance minister Arun Jaitley . The Centre announced that it is looking at importing pulses from Myanmar as India stares at a huge gap between demand and domestic availability. “If the private players are not importing enough, then we have to take the necessary steps to reduce the gap,” food and consumer affairs minister Ram Vilas Paswan said.

In 2015-16 crop year, production of pulses is estimated to be 17.06 million tonnes while demand is pegged at 23.5mt. Even after imports by private firms, the country is staring at shortage of about 18 lakh tonnes.

Soaring food prices, particularly pulses, vegetables and dairy products, has been the key driver of both retail and wholesale price inflation.

Data released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) on Monday showed inflation, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI), rose an annual 5.8% in May from previous month’s 5.5% increase. The food price index jumped 7.6% in May from April’s 6.4% year-on-year increase.The increase was led by a surge in price of pulses and products, which shot up 31.6% in May while sugar and confectionery prices rose 14% year-on-year.

Prices of protein-rich items such as eggs, meat and fish also firmed up, exerting pressure on overall numbers.Prices of vegetables jumped 10.8% year-on-year in May .

“The three steps decided at the meet will be taken immediately. Though price of pulses is comparatively little less than last year, we are taking necessary steps. States must also do their bit, put their demand to get pulses from the central buffer stock,” Paswan said.

He said the Centre is ready to provide unmilled pulses at subsidised rate to states and they must sell the processed dal at not more than Rs 120 per kilogram. In recent weeks, prices of arhar and urad have touched Rs 170 and Rs 196 per kg respectively . The food minister said that prices of no other food item was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Prices of tomato and other vegetable increase for a few months because of seasonal issues. But we must understand that the prices differ from place to place and that can only be addressed when we have common agriculture market enabling farmers to sell their produce according to their choice,” Paswan said.
In fact, prices of tomatoes across the country showed wide variation with 1 kg tomatoes costing between Rs 20 and Rs 80. In cities including Kota, Nasik, Gwalior, Ludhiana, Meerut and Bhopal, tomatoes were retailing between Rs 20 and Rs 30 a kg and in Surat and Thiruvananthapuram 1kg tomato cost Rs 80. In the case of potatoes, while the average price was Rs 15 and maximum Rs 35 a kg, the key kitchen item was selling at less than Rs 10 in Nashik and Indore.

Congress on Wednesday slammed the Centre for “unprecedented” inflation, saying there was “highest-ever surge in food prices” while the Modi dispensation was busy spending crores of public money on its second anniversary bash. Party spokesman Ajay Maken said food inflation at 7.55% in May had hit a 21-month high.