New Delhi, Sep 27 (IANS) 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.
Pulses occupy a major place in the diet of Indians. It is used in a wide variety of cuisine, ranging from the simple dal to dosa, idlis and dhokla as well as sweets from ladoos to halwa.
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 told IANS.
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, to importing around 50,000 tonnes through the state-run National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation Of India (NAFED) but with no positive outcome.
NAFED has received delivery of 43,862 tonnes of moong and urad out of 49,300 tonnes contracted for import. Another 3,600 tonnes stock is expected to arrive early next month.
Most of the stocks received so far have been sent across to different parts of the country to bring down the prices, but the impact is still to be felt.
However, not many are aware that at NAFED's four outlets and at 40 out of 75 Kendriya Bhandar (central government employees' cooperative) outlets in the Indian capital, urad dal is sold at Rs.53 a kg in unpacked form, says a food ministry official.
Kendriya Bhandar officials reported that while moong dal, dried peas and urad dal prices have eased slightly, all the other pulses including arhar (red gram), black chickpeas, kidney beans remain at high levels.
Market watchers allege that while fresh arrivals of moong have brought down the prices at the wholesale market, not much of the slide is passed o