The Centre has asked the States to crack down on hoarders to keep the prices of essential commodities under control, but the diktat may not be sufficient to help the governments achieve their goals.

It is not just vegetable prices that are going up. “For the past two months, beans are selling at Rs. 60-Rs.70 a kg,” says homemaker A. Prema of Chennai. Denting the monthly budgets of the salaried class is also the price of quality rice, up by Rs.4 a kg, she rues.

Hoarding is not so much with perishables. “Only onions are sometimes stocked by farmers in the district for a longer period, till they realise remunerative prices,” says an official in Coimbatore district. And with fewer cold storage facilities for other vegetables and fruits, “the possibility of hoarding is limited,” he explains.

Responding instantly to the worries over food inflation, the State Food and Consumer Protection Department has gone into full gear. A senior official of the Department in Chennai says the prices of essential commodities, and even vegetables, “are being reviewed daily at the level of the Principal Secretary, and nothing goes unnoticed.”

“No major case of hoarding has been reported so far, but directives have been issued to officials to intensify surveillance,” says Coimbatore Collector Archana Patnaik. In Tiruchi district alone, the Food Cell-CID Police have seized rice, kerosene and LPG cylinders, valued at Rs.2.30 lakh, in the last five months.

Price rise has other dimensions too. Besides transport costs, traders cite lack of awareness among people of healthier food options. For example, the desire for polished rice has led to rice millers over-polishing rice. This, in turns, leads to huge wastage of paddy, says N. Jayapalan, vice-president of the Red Hills Paddy and Rice Merchants Association.

(With inputs from M. Balaganessin in Tiruchi; S. Poorvaja in Madurai; K.V. Prasad in Coimbatore; A.D. Balasubramanian in Vellore; and L. Renganathan, V.S. Palaniappan and R. Sujatha in Chennai.)

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