In a snub to the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra, the Centre has returned state’s draft legislation for regulating and capping prices of pulses.
In April this year, the state government, which had come under fire for spiralling tur dal prices, had introduced the draft legilsation for controlling prices of tur dal, black gram, bengal gram, green gram, lentils, and beans, etc. Reaching out to the middle class in the state, the Devendra Fadnavis had claimed at that time that it was the country’s first government to adopt such a price control mechanism.
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But the piece of legislation has failed its first hurdle. While the state cabinet had referred the draft to the Centre for the Presidential assent, Mahesh Pathak, Prinicipal Secretary, Food and Civil Supplies, when contacted, confirmed that the Centre had raised queries on the draft, which had been returned back to the state.
Amid efforts to revise the draft to satisfy the objections raised by the Centre, the state government has indicated that it would mainly rely on improvement of domestic supplies and drives to check hoarding to control prices. Pathak informed that the government’s move to distribute subsidised tur dal had already impacted retail prices, which had overshot the Rs 150 per kg mark in April. “The retail prices are now hovering around the Rs 110 per kg mark, whereas the wholesale rates are about Rs 100 per kg,” Pathak said. The senior bureaucrat informed that on similar lines the Centre had recently allotted 500 tonne of split bengal gram to the state. “We plan to distribute it at a subsidised rate of Rs 55-Rs 60 per kg. The supplies will be distributed within the next fortnight,” he said.
Sources in the government admitted that the Centre’s refusal to grant assent to the bill could lend more ammunition to the Opposition to fire salvos at it. The consumption of pulses is expected to soar during the Diwali festival at the end of the month.
Officials said that the Centre’s main objection to the draft legislation was a provision for penalising a producer or a trafer found violating the price cap norms. “While the government had proposed an imprisonment of up to one year, the Centre has said that it was not in consonance with the universal Essential Commodities Act (1955), which advocates seven year imprisionment for violators. Some other minor technical inconsistencies have also been identified,” said a senior state government official.
Till the time of filing this report, the state government appeared divided on the revision measure. “While the state’s Law department has mandated a Cabinet nod for the revision to the draft, the Food and Civil Supplies department feels this wasn’t necessary,” a source said. The issue could be debated during Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.