Kolkata, Jul 7 (IANS): While the green chilli is known for scalding the tongue, people in West Bengal and especially in this city have of late been feeling the heat with pepper selling for many days at nearly Rs. 200 a kilo. It even prompted West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to go around the principal markets for taking stock of the situation.
As consumers reeled under the spurt in vegetable prices as a whole, the state machinery led by Banerjee hit the road, literally exploring ways to control the "exorbitant" prices. Consumers finally got some relief as the rates softened.
The prices of vegetables in the state had appreciated by 20 percent to 50 percent and in cases of chilies to 100 percent in the last one week.
While brinjal and ribbed gourd rose from Rs.25 a kilo to Rs.35-40, capsicum prices went up by 30 percent to range between Rs.130 and Rs.150. The price of the staple potato which ranged Rs.10-12 rose to Rs.18-20.
Banerjee blamed middlemen and touts.
"I was surprised to find that potato sells at Rs.16 a kg at Koley (city wholesale market) while farmers are selling it for Rs 8 a kg. Why is this gap? I am told that a section of traders is hoarding big time. Potato and seasonal vegetables are being stored for three to four days, thus creating an artificial crisis," said a peeved Banerjee.
She not only set up an 11-member special task force to conduct surprise checks and monitor prices but also asked the police to look out for hoarders and middlemen and arrest them.
While Banerjee's act did see the prices sibsiding a bit, with the ministers' crediting their Didi (Banerjee) for it, others believe the improved supply of goods has resulted in the relief.
True to her trademark style, Banerjee did not let go the opportunity of blaming the "34 years of Left Front (LF) rule" for the current issue and accused the Marxists of being hand in glove with hoarders and middlemen in inflating the prices.
Meanwhile, the opposition Left Front was up in arms over the issue. It took out protest rallies, and legislators staged walk outs in the assembly.
After an adjournment motion by the Left on price rise was disallowed, its members, wearing garlands made of vegetables, walked out of the house shouting slogans and accusing the government of being afraid of discussing the matter.
"The state government has completely failed in checking the prices of essential commodities. Through the motion we wanted to discuss the issue and give our views, but it seems the government is afraid of bringing up the issue in the assembly and holding a discussion," Leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra said.
The government also announced it would sell vegetables through the Essential Commodities Supply Corporation (ESSC) in and around the city, but the plan hit a roadblock after the government officials showed their reluctance to go for the move.
"We are not familiar with the job. From procuring to bringing the produce to the markets and selling them is a tough task. It becomes tougher if you are not familiar with it," an official said after a meeting with vegetable suppliers.
With the monsoon playing truant, which is likely to restrict the supply of vegetables within the state, the government has already initiated the process of procuring them, including green chilies, from other states.
Following Banerjee's diktat, district officials across the state have been raiding markets at random and nabbing hoarders and black marketers.
While green chili is now down to Rs.100-120 a kilo, brinjal has come down by Rs.20 to Rs.40. Though bitter gourd, capsicum and French beans are cheaper by 20-50 percent, the price of potato, tomato, carrot, papaya, striped gourd and ridged gourd still remain high.