India Pulses and Grains Association (IPGA), the nodal body for the pulses trade and industry in India, held a press conference to bring the attention of Government towards the impacts on the trade following the instructions released by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.
The Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) on17th May, has appealed the Food and Civil Supplies Departments of State/UT Governments to use the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act (EC Act) 1955 to make sure that the scheduled commodities are adequately available at fair prices to the common people. The DoCA has also suggested the State Departments to direct pulses stockholders such as Millers, Importers, Traders, etc. to announce their stock holding and also to corroorate the same.
While addressing the press conference Bimal Kothari, vice chairman of IPGA stated- “These instructions have only served to create apprehension amongst trade stakeholders who are now hesitant to buy domestically produced pulses as well as import pulses. This is defeating the very purpose of Government move to remove the restrictions on the imports of Tur, Urad and Moong.”
“As per the 3rd Advance Estimates data sourced from the website of the Ministry of Agriculture, for the Crop year 2020-21, Tur production is expected to be lower by almost 7 lakh metric tons and Urad is expected to be lower by 5.20 lakh metric tons and the overall Kharif Production is expected to be lower by 2.12 million metric tons. However, as per trade estimates, the production for Tur has been around 2.90 million metric tons, Urad approx. 2.06 million metric tons, Moong around 2 million metric tons, Chana around 9 million metric tons and Masoor around 0.95 million metric tons. Given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, IPGA is expecting further shortages of pulses in the forthcoming crop year and believes that as the apex body for the trade, it is IPGA’s responsibility to bring this to Government’s notice well in advance,” Kothari further said.
“Government objective is to double farmers’ incomes and that can happen only if the trade can freely procure their produce without fears of coercive action from the Central and State Governments. On the other hand, Government also wants to ‘ensure adequate availability of the scheduled commodities at fair prices to the common people’. The traders are worried that legitimately procured stock also might come under scanner and in ambit of EC Act land the trader on the wrong side of law for no fault of his. Hence, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution needs to issue a categoric clarification stating that their intentions are to just monitor stocks held by the trade for policy purposes which will help assuage the apprehensions of the trade,” added Kothari.
Talking about the high prices of pulses on retail shelves, Kothari mentioned- “Government needs to monitor the prices at the retail end very closely. IPGA, over the last few years has been tracking the prices at the retail level vis-à-vis the prices at wholesale or ex-mill level. We have found that the prices at retail level have traditionally higher than the wholesale/ex-mill rates by an average of Rs 50 per kg. In current times, while the average wholesale prices of have been around Rs 95 per kg for Tur dal, Rs 110 per kg for Urad dal and Rs 92 per kg for Moong dal, the average retail prices have been Rs 130 per kg for Tur dal, Rs 160 per kg for Urad dal and Rs 115 per kg for Moong dal. However, anytime there is a discussion about high prices, the spotlight is placed on the traders and not the retailers. This needs to change. The retail segment also needs to be held accountable for the high prices and the same be monitored as well. This is further strengthened by the fact that RBI in their annual report talked about the rising wedge between wholesale and retail pulses.”
IPGA, in the press conference, has advised the following few steps that can be adopted by Government, more so by the DoCA:
• Setting up an MRP (maximum retail price) for pulses so that they are not sold at abnormally high prices to consumers. This can be done by the DoCA based on the daily data uploaded by the wholesalers and retailers to the DoCA website.
• IPGA has asked the Government to explore the prospect of using import duties as an option to safeguard the interests of domestic farmers as well as the consumers. Government can inflict duties to a level that ensure the final landing price of the imported pulses stays well above the MSP. IN this manner, the trade will prefer to buy domestic produce when the prices are at or just above the MSP levels and if there are scarcities, they can import these commodities to overcome the demand-supply gap to ensure adequate availability at economical prices.
• IPGA has appealed the Government to make sure that any changes in policy framework is maintained for a minimum of 6 to 9 months period to make sure that there is no speculation which could influence the prices abroad and in India and the trade can function in a smooth and efficient manner.
IPGA also declared that the Government needs to consider the below listed key factors that regulate the availability of pulses while drafting policies:-
• Domestic production
• Production in overseas origins and their harvesting periods
• Logistical issues such as time taken from contracting produce and its sailing time from origins to India
• Other countries that are also desiring to buy the foreign produce and hence possible availability for India to import these commodities
• Impacts of Covid-19 pandemic in India and overseas on sowing, harvesting as well as logistics
“We need Government to recognize the fact that the trade is key link in the farm-to-fork value chain. If the trade reduces its procurement of pulses from the farmers, it will directly affect their earnings and will also result in lesser supplies to the consumers which will lead to shortages at the retail end and drive up the prices making them unaffordable for consumers,” Kothari said at the end.