Kolkata: Potato traders in West Bengal have blamed the recent amendment to the Essential Commodities Act by the Centre for a rise in prices of the tuber in retail markets as it allows barrier-free trade of the agricultural product. Potato prices in West Bengal are currently ruling high at Rs 32-33 a kg as 15-20 per cent of daily supply of the commodity is being exported to neighbouring states, they claimed. "Potato prices are up at the retail level as at least 15-20 per cent of daily supplies are being sent to neighbouring states. If exports are stopped, the prices will come down by around Rs 4-5 per kg," traders said.
They also claimed that the amendment to the Essential Commodities Act has a role in keeping potato prices firm, despite the state government's efforts to bring it down. In June, the Centre had given its nod to the amendment to the Act to deregulate food items, including cereals, pulses, onion and potato and also approved 'the Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020' to ensure barrier-free trade in agriculture produce.
The state government had issued an ultimatum to potato traders to bring down the wholesale price to Rs 22 a kg and warned of action if retailers are found selling the tuber above Rs 27 a kg. Still, the Jyoti variety of potato is being sold at Rs 32-33 per kg.
According to the state government official, the gap between potato prices at cold storage and the retail market should not be more than Rs 5 per kg.
"The ordinance has curtailed the power of the state government to regulate prices of several farm products," sources at the West Bengal Cold Storage Association told PTI. With the amendment, commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onion and potato have been removed from the list of essential commodities, though in situations such as war, famine, extraordinary price rise and natural calamity, these
agricultural products can be regulated, they said.
"Now, there are no restrictions on stocks. Traders can sell the commodity anywhere in the country. So, they are exporting potatoes to the neighbouring states for better realisation," an official of the cold storage association said. Asked whether the state government is planning to ban exports of potato to other states, a senior official of the agriculture department did not want to comment.
Traders said the production of potato in West Bengal was lower by 10 per cent to 90-95 lakh tonne this year, though the output was sufficient for the state's consumption which is about 60 lakh tonne per annum.