Take action against hoarders and blackmarketers: PM

"In short, the contingency plan for crops, drinking water, human and animal health, fodder, etc should be brought into operation without delay and a close watch kept on availability of foodgrains and prices of essential commodities," he said addressing a conference of state Chief Secretaries.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar and Union Agriculture Secretary T Nanda Kumar were among those who attended the meeting.
Assuring Centre's full support to states regarding any additional assistance that may be required, Singh said "there is need for us to act promptly, collectively and effectively. In no case should we allow citizens to go hungry."

The meeting was called against the backdrop of poor monsoon and the spectre of drought looming large over several parts of the country. The Prime Minister himself said that 141 districts in the country have been declared drought affected but no state has so far sent memorandum seeking assistance.

The Prime Minister referred to the possibility of reduced production of kharif crops having an inflationary impact on prices of food items in the coming months.

The Prime Minister said "of late, we have seen a rising trend in the prices of certain essential commodities like pulses, sugar and some vegetables."

He said in order to contain increase in prices of essential commodities, the Central government and the state governments will have to work together and activise the public distribution system, which is an important safety net, especially for the poor and helps cushion them against price rise.

"We will also have to ensure effective enforcement of stock holding limits and strong action against hoarders and black marketeers," Singh said.

He said the country was facing a difficult situation as the monsoon has been delayed and in many places deficient, though some parts of the country have received normal or excess rainfall.

Agricultural operations have been adversely affected in several parts of the country, causing distress to farmers and their families. A deficit of more than six million hectares has been reported in paddy, which is the worst affected crop, Singh said.

However, he said, the country was helped by the fact that it was operating against the backdrop of record food production and procurement of foodgrains in both 2007-08 and 2008-09.

The Prime Minister said the country was in a position to ensure adequate availability of foodgrains in the drought affected areas. "We should not hesitate to take strong measures and intervene in the market if the need were to arise".

Singh called for a two-pronged strategy that would focus on maximising production in the traditional crops in areas where there was adequate rainfall and look for alternate crops in areas deficient in rainfall. The other part of the strategy should be to save the standing crops, he said.

The Prime Minister that planning should start for the coming rabi season so that production is raised to compensate for whatever loss faced in the ongoing kharif season.
This would require meticulous planning for availability of seeds, fertilisers and other inputs to the farmers. Availability of credit has to be ensure through banking and cooperative channels.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said the Centre would offload stocks in the open market whenever required.

Referring to pulses price, he said there is no reason for prices to rise in this fashion, merely based on supply-demand gap. "Speculative tendencies in the market play a big role in this and unless effective steps are taken to prevent black marketing and hoarding, we will not be able to control the price situation".

Pawar said an all-out effort has to be made to increase procurement of Kharif crops as inadequate public stocks could fuel inflationary tendencies. 

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