Irked by reports that potatoes grown in West Bengal are being smuggled out to Pakistan through Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, chief minister Mamata Banerjee banned export of potatoes from the state until the end of October, while issuing directives to law enforcement agencies in this regard.
The chief minister took the decision on Monday after a meeting of the task force, which the state government had set up to rein in prices of essential produce.
The ban has been imposed with a view to control prices of potatoes that are currently being sold for a premium in Kolkata markets. While the Jyoti variety is priced at Rs 18-20 per kg, the Chandramukhi variety is being sold for Rs 22-25 per kg.
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The state government had imposed a similar ban on potato exports in October last year, triggering vehement protests from other states such as Orissa and Bihar. Orissa even took retaliatory steps by stopping goods coming to West Bengal. The ban, however, was lifted two months later (in December).
“During the meeting, some of the officials mentioned that potatoes were not only being sent to other states but are also being smuggled out to Pakistan through Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, and this is what the chief minister fumed over. She (also) asked what the central government was doing about it. She then ordered that potatoes should not go out of the state,” Rabindranath Kolay, a member of the task force, told The Indian Express.
Subrata Biswas, principal secretary, agricultural marketing, also said that potato export from the state “would be totally discouraged”.
At present, the state has in reserve 25 lakh tonnes of potatoes with the state’s monthly requirement nearly 3.5 lakh tonnes of the vegetable, while another 1.5 lakh tonnes exported to other states.
Significantly, the steep hike in price is a result of low production this time. As against the 1 crore tonnes of potatoes produced last year, the state yielded only 92 lakh tonnes this year.