High vegetable prices: Mamata blames Centre, issues 10-day deadline to WB task force to slash rates

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Kolkata, Jul 9 (PTI) West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday took umbrage at soaring prices of agricultural commodities and blamed the central government for “completely failing” to keep control on rates of farm produce. Banerjee, who chaired a meeting at the state secretariat on the issue, gave a 10-day deadline to officials concerned for bringing down prices of agricultural commodities.

"It's a fact that prices of such commodities have gone beyond the reach of common people. The Centre has completely failed to control this price hike,” she said.

The CM noted that prices of potato, onion, garlic, brinjal, bottle gourd and cucumber have risen sharply compared to last year’s rates.

"Monsoon is here, but the prices of vegetables are still soaring. People are scared to go to the market. We are very concerned about this situation. I am giving you a deadline of 10 days by which prices should be brought down," Banerjee told officials, traders and other stakeholders present at the meeting.

Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim, state Agriculture Minister Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, Chief Secretary B P Gopalika and senior police officers were among those who attended the meeting.

The chief minister also directed members of the state task force that was formed to control price rise to immediately start visiting markets in the state to keep a tab on vegetable sales and its prices.

The task force comprises top police officers and bureaucrats including the chief secretary, home secretary, the DGP, ADG (Law and Order) and commissioners of police.

"The members of the task force will regularly monitor the markets and submit weekly reports to me," she said.

Banerjee said extra potatoes should not be stored in cold storages and vegetables exported without meeting the needs of people of the state.

"Currently, we are still storing 30 lakh out of the 45 lakh metric tonne capacity of potatoes in the cold stores. Why such a large volume of potatoes continue to lie in our storages when the vegetable prices are spiking? “Keep at least 25 per cent and release the rest in the market. There should be a steady supply of potatoes. We will also conduct checks of vehicles at the border... We cannot deprive our people and send potatoes to other countries,” she asserted.

Banerjee also emphasised that the state government should stop procuring onion from Nashik in a bid to save transport costs and, instead, concentrate on buying the vegetable from local producers. “We have 4,000-odd onion store houses in the state. Why are traders not buying the vegetable from our local farmers?” the chief minister asked, advocating self-reliance in onion produce.

The Bengal CM also directed the police to keep a strict vigil on hoarding of essential farm products to ensure that the prices don’t go beyond control.

"The Bengal STF, CID, IB and Enforcement Branch should keep a tab on this," she said, adding that strict action would be taken against those involved in extortion. PTI SCH SMY RBT