“Earlier, the prices- of dals ex Mill – used to rise by Rs 25 a quintal. Now, they move up and fall by Rs 500 a quintal,” said a retailer of Nagpur, while speaking to NT. Why this sudden change in the price pattern of an essential commodity, particularly this year?
We have all heard the reasons trotted out by the Ministers, Administrators like Collectors and even Mill owners who have not shied from giving sound bytes on the subject. Some of the reasons they tell you are:
- Rains have failed successively in the last two years so dal crops have been badly affected. Production is low.
- Even in international markets, harvested quantities of dals were not enough, so it could not be procured from Africa, Australia etc. (So how is this imported dal suddenly available in large quantities now?)
- Unseasonal rains further damaged the crops.
Etc. Etc. Etc. The reasoning seems logical and becomes more believable, if not palatable, as it is repeated ad infinitum by everyone concerned with the trade. Privately, they must all be laughing at the gullibility of the average Indian!
The questions we as consumers and citizens are not asking are these – have there never been vagaries of weather before? Why did dal prices never get affected like now? The paucity of rainfall and drought conditions of areas like Marathwada were known since July – August itself, why had government not geared up to face coming shortage of food grains which they should have anticipated?
Prices did not touch Rs. 200 a Kg overnight; they have been rising steadily for the past many months. Every newspaper and news channel has been talking about it – why were raids on hoarders and stockists not carried out much before October end?
Because all this is an eye wash!
As per a progressive farmer of Amraoti region, and someone whose family has been growing Tur with Cotton and Soyabean for generations, Diliprao Wankhede this is the real story behind the facade.
It has many facets to it, which we will try to lay down point wise:
- First of all, let us understand how various dals are grown – Tur is the ONLY dal that is grown side by side with Cotton or Soybean crops. There will be one row of cotton, then one of Tur and so on. Both plants can grow quite tall and spread out when they flower and then yield cotton pods and tur beans, respectively. Their timing is such that after cotton is almost fully harvested, Tur plants have become so big that they cover the entire farm. Tur harvest begins at Nov end and can continue till Jan – Feb. All other dals like Chana, Moong and urad are stand alone crops, taken mostly in the Rabi season.
- Successive governments have never been known to be sympathetic to the cause of farmers and responsive to their legitimate demands ever. There has never been a Minimum Reserve Price declared for dals and no procurement from the government to help out farmers when harvest is abundant and prices fall. They fall to such an extent that the cost of inputs goes higher than the price available for it in the market. This price is declared by Dal mill owners, who have large godowns and capacity to hold stocks till supply stops and then prices can firm up and increase. Farmers on the other hand, are so much in debt by the time of harvest that money lenders are waiting for them to sell their produce and repay loans. (Often the loan lenders and produce purchasers are the same people). So they simply CANNOT hold on to any crop to market when prices get better.
- Some years ago a similar situation had arisen. Farmers had to use all means to coax government(s) to purchase dal from them. The then Maharashtra government did it, but just as a farce and for very little time. “The purchase of Tur by the government began and ended in 30 minutes in my village” says Dilip.
- Seeing the poor returns on dal, farmers sowed less next year. When again the situation repeated, there was again no action from the ( changed) government – actually it was election time, and all such decisions were put on hold as per ‘achar sanhita’. When the new government came to power they were busy learning the ropes and farmers problems were least of all their ‘headaches’.
- Farmers sowed even less dal – all 3 of them which are grown in this area, Tur, Chana and Moong – the following season. So this had happened for 3 consecutive years, 2015 being the third. The harvest of 2014 came into the market in November 2014. It was procured to begin with, at Rs. 4000 per quaintal, that is Rs. 40/ per Kg. So please understand this crucial fact – the dal we are buying at Rs. 200 + now was bought from the farmers at only Rs. 40/-
- Some prosperous and aware farmers realized that output was low and held on to some stocks – if they could! By August, Mill owners were purchasing this dal at Rs. 90/ or even Rs. 100/ They bought up dal from small traders also at this rate; for them selling at 100 what they had bought at 40 was a very good deal indeed. 150% profit in few months!
- So by August end the situation was that all dal stocks were held by Mill owners, large stockists such as supermarkets owned by Big Bazar, Ambani and Adanis, among others, Due to pressure bought by them, the limits of quantity of dal one could ‘hoard’ was removed, so these entities could hold any quantity of dals.
- Now these big players had the consumer in their grip. They could create a sense of scarcity bigger than there was, play with prices and finally set them at levels they wanted. They had those very petty traders they had bought from, now buying back from them at Rs. 150 +. These smaller stores then sold them to customers at Rs. 175/ to Rs. 200/. So they made a killing TWICE on dal.
- When the hue and cry over exorbitant dal price reached a crescendo, government suddenly seemed to have awakened from slumber and began the farce of raiding stockists and ‘seizing’ large stocks of dal from them. Some figures given out are so ridiculous… from the entire Pune region, they supposedly found and seized stocks of 60+ Kg!!
- We had other fairy tale stories of whole sellers filing FIRs saying their imported dal stocks coming from Mumbai to Nagpur had been ” stolen”. Not one or two trucks mind you – multiples of them!
- And then with the assurance that these Dal mills/ traders were now going to sell dal to customers at Rs. 100/ the seizures stopped and dal stocks in fact given back!
- When the undersigned went around some super markets of Nagpur yesterday i.e. 6th November – nowhere was good quality dal available at below Rs. 200/ Some places, like Ramdev Baba’s hypermarket, it was being sold at Rs. 235/ even.
- The logic why this is happening is clear enough for any observer. Who are the Dal mill owners and large stockists? All entities who fund political parties’ election funds. Last time around most of them have gone with ” Ab ki baar…”. (Not that Congress or NCP did not have their share of financiers). This was the clear understanding that their modus operandi of profiteering would not be hampered or they penalized.
- Another pointer in this direction is that even after the immense hue and cry ONLY dal stocks are being seized. What about urad and moong whose prices are equally high and rising?
But why would ANY politician cut the very hand that feeds him? There are going to be elections again and again – they are going to need helicopters, private planes, jeeps, hoardings and all those ad campaigns again, right?
Thus the merry go round will continue and customers will continue getting taken for rides.
The government will not come up with clear agricultural policies outlining what farmers should sow in any given year – it will be left to the farmers’ to decide that depending on the market sentiments which benefit the stockists and big players in any scenario. Glut or scarcity.
It is a safe bet that in the coming year lot of Tur will be sowed and prices – for farmers – will collapse. Government will not come to their rescue and thus the vicious cycle will continue. On and on…