A strong lobby of traders is resisiting the Central government’s push towards enacting a stricter law to check hoarding, which is leading to high inflation of commodities like pulses, tomatoes and potatoes etc.
Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan had talked about the government’s intention to amend the Essential Coomodities Act 1955 and Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act 1980 two years ago, with a view to making hoarding and black marketing a non-bailable offence besides increasing the period of detention from existing six months to one year.
However, state governments are reluctant to send their responses to the ministry’s proposal, reportedly under pressure from the traders’ lobby, which is delaying the amendment of the two Acts. According to a source, the consent of the state governments is needed to amend these two Acts as it is up to them to act against the menace. The Centre, in the absence of a complete response from the states, is not able to present the amendment proposal in Parliament.
According to an office-bearer of a trade body, the traders’ community is being targeted for the menace. “We are not responsible for hoarding. The government should first define who are hoarders. There have been cases when big retail companies keep buffer stock. Shouldn’t that be called hoarding?” asked the office bearer requesting anonymity.
He suggested that the government should set up a group to look into the issue and long term measures should be initiated to solve the problem.
State governments have not sought any assistance for setting up of special courts for the speedy trial of hoarders and black marketers, said Paswan, while replying to a query in the Lok Sabha recently.
There are 22 essential commodities which are identified by the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. These items include potatoes, onions, tomatoes, rice, wheat, atta, sugar, tea, mustard oil, mil and gur.
The Centre, in the meantime, has issued anadvisory to the state governments to take action against hoarding and black-marketing and enforce the two Acts in letter and spirit. The Ministry has also authorised states to impose stock limits in respect of onion and potato and also in essential commodities like pulses, edible oil and edible oilseeds from time to time.
On the issue of increasing the prices of pulses, Paswan had said that private importers who purchase pulses from abroad keep the stocks at ports and bring it to the open market when demand goes up. He also said that prices have increased mainly due to the gap between the demand and local production. In 2015-16, the total pulse production was 173 lakh tonne, while the country’s requirement is 237 lakh tonne.