Panic buying sees prices touching Rs. 200 a kg in Bihar

Rumours of an impending salt scarcity inspired panic buying in many parts of the country and saw prices shoot through the roof on Friday.

In Bihar, prices spiralled to nearly Rs. 200 a kg, up from Rs. 25 a kg. Panic buying in Bihar prompted governments in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram to announce a slew of measures to allay apprehensions.

The commodity was selling at between Rs. 100 and Rs. 150 in Tripura and around Rs.100 in Assam, Meghalaya and West Bengal.

The Bihar government blamed “well-oiled” rumour machinery for the chaos. Twenty-one FIRs were registered in the State and an equal number of persons arrested, Shishir Kumar Sinha, Secretary, Food and Consumer Protection Department, said.

He said there was no disruption on the supply side. “A few days ago, Orissa, faced a similar situation. Last night, we did a sample check in the State. There are enough stocks to last us a month,” Mr. Sinha told The-Hindu.

Police said the rumour started in Samastipur district. A news report in a local daily on Wednesday said that a salt factory in Orissa had been affected by cyclone Phylin. By that afternoon, rumours about salt scarcity had spread to Madhubani and Darbhanga and the next day to other districts.

Shops down shutters

In Assam and Meghalaya, anxious consumers queued up to buy five to six packets of salt each. Prices varied from Rs. 50-60 to Rs. 100 a kg in different places. Consumers and retail traders engaged in heated arguments over the exorbitant prices. As crowds of buyers swelled, shops in many parts of Guwahati and Meghalaya’s capital Shillong downed shutters.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi issued a statement asking people not to panic. “There is no salt crisis as such in the State. Some vested interests are spreading rumours and creating a law and order situation,” he said.

Principal Secretary, Food and Civil Supplies, S.L. Mewara, informed Mr. Gogoi that the State had 6,79,536 bags of salt — enough to last at least six months. In Meghalaya, Principal Secretary Food, Civil supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, P.W. Ingty, asked the Directorate of Information and Public Relations to give wide publicity to the fact that there was no shortage of salt in the market. The Director, Food, Civil supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, asked the Deputy Commissioner and Sub-Divisional Officers to convene a price monitoring committee to address the problem.

‘Vested interests at work’

Sowmya Das writes from Kolkata:

Dismissing reports of shortage of salt in certain districts of north Bengal, the State government advised consumers on Friday not to pay heed to rumours spread by “mischievous people” out to make a quick buck.

North Bengal Development Minister Goutam Deb said the panic situation was the work of some people who were involved in a deep-rooted controversy for own their political interests. “There is no chaotic situation here. Everything is all right,” he said in Siliguri in the State’s Darjeeling district.

There were reports of salt being looted from shops in the English Bazar area of Malda town.

Long queues in Tripura

Syed Sajjad Ali writes from Agartala:

Unmindful of the soaring salt prices, there were long queues of buyers before retail shops in Tripura. “Some racketeers are trying to create an artificial crisis. The State has adequate stocks,” Food and Civil Supplies Minister Bhanu Lal Saha said.

The district administrations cracked down on unauthorised sellers at a wholesale market in Agartala.

Crackdown in Arunachal

PTI reports:

Authorities cracked down on unscrupulous traders in Arunachal Pradesh and assured people that there was no need to panic. Food and Civil Supplies Minister Kamlung Mosang said the State had a stock of 23,000 quintals, which could meet requirements for the next few months.

Mr. Mosang ordered surprise checks to contain the artificial crisis.

In Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland, anxious consumers have been swarming retail shops since last night.

Official sources said people rushed frantically from shop to shop in search of salt, but shopkeepers were unwilling to sell.