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Unusual weather in Himachal led to rise in tomato prices, situation under control now: Consumer Affairs Secy

IANS | August 20, 2023 05:23 PM

NEW DELHI: Having faced stormy weather over tomato prices which zoomed to Rs 200 per kg during the last two months, as well as dealing with higher rates of wheat, rice and pulses, Secretary in the Consumer Affairs Department Rohit Kumar Singh manages to maintain a calm composure.

Here are some excerpts from an interview with IANS.

IANS: Amid rising prices of tomatoes, government had to intervene by selling them at cheaper prices through its own outlets. How much has been the subsidy burden?

Singh: Subsidy burden has not been much, as the idea was to push prices down. A signal had to be given to the market that unnecessary hike cannot be permitted.

Of course prices initially rose due to a particular disease in Karnataka, but they had to come down as supplies from other geographies had started. So what we did was to give a nudge to the market to make it proceed in the right direction, and I think it has worked. As long as it (tomato prices) reaches a normalcy, where it is not unduly high, we will keep doing this (selling them at lower prices).

The wholesale prices of tomatoes in Delhi were Rs 50 to 65 per kg on August 17. If seller's margin is included, they come to around Rs 80 per kg. By next weekend, we will be very comfortable (in terms of prices).

IANS: But wasn't the intervention by the government a bit late?

Singh: We intervened as the situation was unusual due to weather disturbances. In Himachal Pradesh, heavy weather disturbance was there, as Sirmour and Solan cater to Delhi and NCR in these months. The highways were closed due landslides and production was also lost there. That is why we had to intervene.

We were not expecting high rains in Himachal Pradesh and the situation was further compounded by traffic disruptions. These events are dictated by God and we had to intervene.

IANS: What has been the quantum of subsidy on selling tomatoes at lower rates through NAFED and NCCF?

Singh: We have not calculated it yet but the government had set up a Price Stablisation Fund (PSF) in 2015, which our department manages. The idea behind it was to address such situations in agricultural and horticultural commodities. So there would of course be a subsidy but we have not given any number to it. But we will do it of course.

IANS: The government has been selling wheat and rice in open market to arrest their rising retail prices. How beneficial has been the move?

Singh: After open market sale, the increase in prices of wheat and rice has been arrested. For rice there are still few takers, but we have started giving subsidy of Rs 200 through PSF in terms of base price of rice and hopefully there would be more takers for it, as rice's availability is not an issue.

Even on wheat we are above the buffer required. We still have 80 to 90 tonnes of stock and that is why we are selling it in open market. There is no need to import wheat now.

IANS: How is the situation in prices of pulses like Tur and Urad, on which stock limits had to be imposed in June to curb hoarding and price rise?

Singh: In case of Tur dal, there was a supply issue as our consumption is 44 lakh tonnes and we produce around 34 lakh tonnes every year. So there is a gap and to bridge that, we have to import from Myanmar and Mozambique. Imports have started arriving from Mozambique, and the first shipment of 18, 000 tonnes has already arrived. We had applied stock limit to prevent speculations and to stop hoarding. As more imports will start arriving in the next month or so, the prices will start coming down.

Urad prices have increased by 7 per cent over the last year, however, the MSP too has been hiked by 5 per cent. So the price rise is only 2 per cent, which by the time it reaches the consumer, rises further as various other costs add up, which is acceptable and is normal inflation.

In case of Moong, the price is up by 8 per cent, but the MSP is also up by 10 per cent, so the retailer has to pay a little more as the farmer has to be compensated. In case of Masur though, prices are lower than last year.

The problem arose mainly due to lesser production of pulses but the agriculture ministry is trying to improve production, acereage and is also working on new varieties, which do not take much time to harvest.

IANS: Are the guidelines for dark patterns in e-commerce activities ready?

Singh: The guidelines are ready and we will release them this next week. We have generated a lot of data through complaints received on our grievance redressal number 1915. We have seen that there has been a 40 per cent rise in complaints related to e-commerce activities alone in the last five years from around 10 per cent earlier. It is a matter of concern and lot of it might pertain to dark patterns.

IANS: The consumer affairs department is also involved in preparation of the e-commerce policy. What are the updates on it?

Singh: It is a work in progress as the Commerce Ministry has to finalise it. The main areas of concern which it will cover are product liability. For example if people are buying something from a particular vendor's platform, then will the vendor be held liable in case of a faulty product or the source would be liable for action. Also we are looking to ensure fair choices for consumers. There should be no misleading advertisements and e-commerce entities cannot force consumers to bundle services, like forcing them to accept products from a particular courier.

Also we are ensuring that there are no fake reviews for products, as the aim is to protect consumer's interests.

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