The Tur dal the state government distributes through its public distribution system to the poor is costlier than the stock it has given to retail outlets and malls by Rs8 a kg.
The pulse — a staple diet for many poor families — costs Rs103 a kg at PDS outlets, and only Rs95 a kg at retail ones. While the state claims the retail price is lower as it is subsidised by the central government, consumer activists are up in arms.
To stop the price of pulses shooting up to Rs200 a kg like it had last year, the state roped in departmental stores such as Big Bazaar, Apna Bazaar and Reliance retail to sell the stock the state gets from the Centre at Rs95 a kg.
So far, the state has got 48 metric tonnes (MT) of a total 750 MT from the Centre.
But with persistent drought hitting production over the past two years and demand exceeding supply, the state also procured the pulse from the open market through the National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange (NCDX), which was to be sold at Rs103 a kg through the PDS outlets.
“This is a a complete mess, as tur meant for the poor is being sold at Rs8 more per kg. Comparatively well-off people are getting it for cheaper. The poor are also hit by thier restricted quota of 1kg per family, while the quota in departmental stores and malls is 1kg per person,” said Shirish Deshpande of the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, which has moved the Lokayukta against the government’s policies. “This is an example of failed policies. I think the government has learnt no lessons from similar situations in the past,” Deshpande said.
Officials, however, maintain that it is an issue of low supply. “The Centre has given a subsidy of Rs30 a kg on the 750 tonnes it plans to supply, and hence we have been able to sell it at a lower rate at the retail stores. The stock we procured through NCDX costs us Rs103 a kg after transport and packaging charges. It is true the tur distributed through PDS is costlier, but the central government's stock was too little to distribute through rationing shops. We need at least 7,000 MT a month to distribute to the 85 lakh families that fall under the poverty line,” said an officer from the food and civil supply department.
The officer said the state was not in a position to offer a subsidy owing to its critical financial position.
“One should understand that due to our efforts of bringing a cheaper pulse in the market, the rates in the open market have also fallen. The rate of the dal sold at rationing shops is much lower than prices in the open market," said Mahesh Pathak, the principal secretary of food and civil supplies.
Deshpande has also pointed out how the government first announced retail rates at Rs120 a kg. “It was only after our intervention that the government had to issue a corrigendum announcing to bringing the price down to Rs95.”