Unable to control soaring tur dal prices, the Maharashtra government has decided to bring in an Act, whereby it will directly control the prices of all pulses.
Pulses, despite not being in the list of foodgrains available under Public Distribution System (PDS), are the only food items whose prices will be directly controlled by the State. The Opposition has dubbed the move as going back to the infamous Licence Raj of the past.
Food and civil supply minister Girish Bapat on Tuesday announced the State cabinet decision, claiming it will bring relief to consumers, and check the malpractices that have been going on for long. According to the draft of the Act, which will be sent to the President for approval, the controlled prices of all the pulses — processed or not — will not be uniform throughout the state.
Mr Bapat said: “Factors that will be taken into consideration before announcing the State prices are costs of production, transport, processing, and also the profit of traders.” He said uniform rates cannot be applied across the State considering these factors. The Minister also said that the State-controlled prices will not be rigid, and will undergo changes every year according to the prevailing circumstances. Last year, tur dal prices had crossed the Rs 200 per kg mark. Repeated government assurances notwithstanding, the prices have not come down from the Rs 120-Rs 150 bracket. The Opposition claimed that a dal scam was underway, where big companies were beneficiaries.
According to the proposed law, traders or producers will not be allowed to sell dal at or above the maximum limit prescribed by the State, and providing a receipt will be mandatory. Violators could face imprisonment of minimum three months and maximum of one year, with or without fine.
Former Chief Minister and Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan said it was an unwise move, similar to the License Raj. “Instead of State-controlled prices, the government should focus on increasing dal production. Due to this Act, artificial shortage of dal can be created by vested interests.” Mr Chavan said that instead of enacting the law, the government should probe the tur dal scam, and conduct inquiry against the Chief Secretary as well. “Promises made by Mr Fadnavis in the State Assembly about presenting documents in the Assembly are yet to be fulfilled.”
Shirish Deshpande of Mumbai Grahak Panchayat sounded sceptical about the Act. It was the Grahak Panchayat that had alleged a scam of thousands of crores of rupees at a time when tur dal prices soared past Rs 200 per kg. Deshpande said, “Prices can be controlled under section 3(2)(c) of the Essential Commodities Act, and there have been such instances in the past. We had appealed to the CM to issue a Pulse Price Control Order (PPCO) instead of an Act. We are yet to read the draft of the act and check the technicalities.”
Mr Deshpande said the Panchayat had even taken a legal view from former Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee on whether such order can be issued, to which he had replied in the affirmative.