Atop panel chaired by Union finance minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday cleared imports of pulses from Myanmar and some African countries as a sudden shortage pushed the retail prices of pulses as high as Rs.170 per kg.
Both retail and wholesale price inflation accelerated in May on the back of rising food prices. While the retail inflation touched a 21-month high of 5.76% in May , wholesale price inflation rose to 0.79% , after turning positive for the first time in 17 months in April.
Inflation of pulses has remained over 30% in the last few months. In May, while retail prices of pulses soared 33.63%, the wholesale price of pulses increased 35.56%.
Union food and public distribution minister Ram Vilas Paswan tweeted that a high-level inter-ministerial meeting on prices of pulses was held Wednesday under the chairmanship of Jaitley, attended by parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu, Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh and Union commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
“It was decided in the meeting that the quantity of pulses equal to gap between demand and supply will be imported. FCI (Food Corp. of India) will procure more quantity of pulses from market. It was also decided that a high-level committee will visit the countries producing pulses and deliberate on government-to-government import of pulses,” Paswan said in a series of tweets.
“This year’s target is to procure 1.5 lakh tonnes of pulses for buffer stock creation and so far, 1.15 lakh tonnes have been purchased during the kharif and rabi seasons, while the rabi procurement is still going on. The government has decided to send a team immediately to pulses-growing nations like Myanmar and Africa to explore government-to-government imports,” Paswan told reporters after the meeting.
India imports nearly a quarter of its domestic consumption of pulses. The agriculture minister has targeted pulses production at 20.75 million tonnes (mt) in 2016-17, 21.6% higher than the estimated 17.06 mt produced in 2015-16. The target production for pulses is higher than the best-ever production of 19.25 mt achieved in 2013-14.
Last week, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) warned against rising inflation in its monetary policy review, while leaving policy rates unchanged.
The central bank and the government have set a target of reining in retail inflation at 5% by March 2017.
However, the southwest monsoon, which hit the Kerala coast on 8 June, a week later than expected, is expected to lower food inflation. The monsoon is critical to the kharif crop as more than half of India’s farmland lacks assured irrigation. India receives 80% of its annual rainfall during the four months starting June.
While sub-par rainfall dented foodgrain production over the past two years, based on the forecast of a bountiful monsoon, the agriculture ministry has set a target of producing a record 270 mt in 2016-17, 7% more than the 252.2 mt estimated to have been produced in 2015-16.
As of 10 June, farmers had planted 7.1 million hectares with crops such as rice, pulses, coarse cereals, oilseeds, sugarcane and cotton. But the area cultivated so far is smaller than the 7.7 million hectares sown by this time last year, Mint reportedon 11 June. A slowing monsoon in parts of the country may affect the sowing of rain-fed kharif crops.
India Meteorological Department (IMD) has advised farmers in Maharashtra to postpone sowing seeds until the rains reach the state in the next four to five days.
“The Konkan region is getting pre-monsoon rains and will soon get monsoon too, but in interior Maharashtra and Marathwada, the farmers are advised not to begin sowing as the soil is heated, and the seeds require rainfall when sown to grow into good crops,” said N. Chattopadhyay, deputy director general of agricultural meteorology division at IMD, on Tuesday.