Sandeep Joshi

NEW DELHI: Conceding that the overall price situation was “serious,” the Centre on Thursday said it had initiated several steps including allowing easy import of pulses and sugar, and giving financial support to States to supply essential items through the public distribution system.

Blaming the poor monsoon, domestic crop patterns and global conditions for the price rise, Agriculture and Food Minister Sharad Pawar said: “The situation is serious, but the government has taken several steps to provide relief to vulnerable sections. The Centre and State governments have to work collectively to deal with the situation effectively.”

Replying to a debate in the Rajya Sabha, Mr. Pawar claimed that the prices of rice and wheat were “reasonably stable” as there was enough stock, while the prices of edible oil had come down.

“The two main areas of concern are pulses and sugar. While domestic production of pulses has been low, availability is also down in global markets, leading to a supply-demand mismatch. Similarly, sugarcane farmers shifting to other crops in major producing States like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra has resulted in lesser production of sugar. All this has led to a continuous rise in the prices of these products.” Noting that imports of pulses and sugar were ordered to meet domestic demand, Mr. Pawar said pulses availability would improve in the coming months, thanks to increase in cultivation. Sugar prices would remain stable this year and come down only by next year when production increased.

He dismissed the Opposition’s charge that futures trading in commodity exchanges was responsible for the price hike.