Residents cutting across the social and economic spectrum flocked to the farm-fresh consumer outlets in the city’s suburbs on Thursday, soon after their inauguration earlier in the day.
Chief Minister Jayalalithaa launched 31 ‘Pannai Pasumai Nugarvor Kootturavu Kadai’ through video-conferencing from the Secretariat. Four of the outlets, which will sell 31 varieties of vegetables, are in the city’s immediate southern suburbs — Madipakkam, Rajakilpakkam, East Tambaram and Pozhichalur — and one is in Porur in the west.
The huge difference in the prices of locally-available vegetables at the new outlets compared to those in other markets was evident. The prices of onion, tomato and potato are far lower than those quoted in supermarkets run by giant firms, and lower than even those in an Uzhavar Sandhai and other important markets such as Tambaram.
On Thursday, the prices of onions, tomatoes and potatoes per kg at an airconditioned supermarket in Tambaram was Rs. 29, Rs. 49 and Rs. 41 respectively, while the rates for the same vegetables at the consumer outlets were Rs. 20, Rs. 30 and Rs. 20 respectively.
Brinjal and ladies finger costs Rs. 24 and Rs. 30 per kilogram at an Uzhavar Sandhai and Rs. 36 and Rs. 45 at a supermarket, while they are priced at Rs. 20 and Rs. 24 at the new outlets.
“A bunch of coriander that costs between Rs. 8 and Rs. 12 elsewhere is available here for just Rs. 6. The biggest bargains are beans and carrots as their prices are lesser by more than 50 per cent compared to the rates at markets and air-conditioned stores,” said K. Sarojini, a homemaker of Rajakilpakkam.
R. Venkatraman, a pensioner, welcomed the launch of the new outlets, stating it was long overdue. He said the agriculture department was earlier running a similar store attached to the fair price shop of the Kancheepuram district consumer cooperative welfare society, but it had been shut down.
“Middlemen and leading chains seem to be a law unto themselves. They lure customers through offers and once the bond is established, they resort to unjust pricing,” said M.B. Sundaram, another pensioner.
He said the biggest beneficiaries would be people from low-income groups, especially those who do not own refrigerators and hence buy vegetables in small quantities.
Residents, while welcoming the electronic billing method, said the government should ensure retailers do not buy vegetables in bulk from the outlets and resell them. Officials said they had instructed staff at the outlets to be wary of merchants and not sell vegetables in bulk.
They said the department of cooperation, food and consumer protection procured the vegetables directly from farmers in places such as Oddanchathiram and Dharmapuri and brought them to the outlets. Despite the transportation costs involved, they were able to maintain prices lower than those anywhere else due to the elimination of middlemen.
At the end of the day, visitors to the outlets had to go back empty-handed as all the vegetables were sold out. The outlets had sold 13,000 kg of different varieties of vegetables for Rs. 3 lakh, a margin of Rs. 25,000 over the procurement price. Buyers on Thursday got a small piece of ginger (the costliest item in the outlets) free of cost.
Following the huge response, officials have now decided to operate the outlets from 7.30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The initiative, aimed at beating the high inflationary trend, would be studied closely in the initial days to plug loopholes, officials said, adding, they anticipated the prices of vegetables would come down in supermarkets.