Panic-stricken people in Meghalaya today rushed to grocery stores and purchased salt at exorbitant prices following wild rumours that the commodity was in short supply.
In neighbouring West Bengal, similar rumours sent people in Siliguri, Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts rushing to stores and buy salt at Rs100-150 a kg since Thursday night.
In Bihar, where it all started, the police arrested 21 persons on charges of hoarding and black marketing of salt in a statewide swoop, after rumours about its scarcity led to panic buying on Thursday. Salt was sold for Rs. 90-Rs 150 a kg in Bihar compared to normal price of Rs. 22-25.
Bihar principal secretary of food and civil supplies Shishir Sinha said the arrests were made in Patna, Nawada, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Sitamarhi, Gopalganj and other districts. He said 15 FIRs have been filed against the accused.
Sinha said an artificial scarcity of salt was created after wild rumours that started in Orissa three days ago reached certain districts of Bihar on Wednesday and Thursday. He said the authorities were able to “nip the problem in the bud” and salt was being sold at normal price now.
"Salt is not potato, onion or wheat, whose prices are affected by weather and pests. All the supply lines are in order and sellers have assured me they have salt stocks for more than a month," he added.
Sinha said the police were in the process of identifying the culprits behind the rumours. Food and civil supplies minister Shyam Rajak yesterday blamed the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for spreading rumours to defame the state government.
Meghalaya food and civil supplies minister Clement K Marak appealed to the people not to panic as there was sufficient stock of salt in the state.
Its prices soared up to Rs. 300 a kg in the state, prompting the government to warn rumour mongers of strict action.
North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb said all district magistrates have been asked to ensure salt is sold at maximum retail price, while assuring salt stocks were sufficient in the state.