High cost of pulses dampen festive spirits

New Delhi, September 27 :

Spiralling prices of pulses, the staple of Indian food, has taken the thrill out of the festive season now under way. Urad dal, one of the most widely used lentils, is costing a staggering Rs 71 a kg in shops, a sharp rise from the modest Rs 37 only a fortnight ago.

The same is true for chana, whose retail price has shot up from an affordable Rs 19 a kg to Rs 70 a kg today. No one is happy. And everyone is predictably blaming the government.

India produces 14-15 million tonnes of pulses but this is not sufficient to meet its needs.

Family budgets have gone haywire. Housewives are upset about having to pay up so much. Last year, the price of urad was around Rs 35 a kg.

“There is clearly a mismatch between demand and supply that has led to rising prices,” said an industry watcher.

According to him, major industry groups and multinationals are engaged in frantic buying of current and future stocks of pulses, a situation that was some time back seen in the case of potatoes and tomatoes.

“The government has not helped by not putting in place adequate checks,” the industry watcher said. Ashok Gupta, president of the Dal and Besan Millers Association that represents 300 millers, echoed similar sentiments.

“The government has opened up the market for big players without adequate safeguards against hoarding. The result is that both the industry, in particular small millers and consumers are suffering,” he said.

From Rs 1,600 per quintal last year, the price of urad at the start of the crop season currently is Rs 4,000 a quintal, Gupta pointed out. The government says it has been striving to check the prices of pulses since the middle of this year after a lower-than-expected production.

Authorities say they have taken several steps to check further rise in prices, including making pulses available at controlled prices at select outlets.