The humble potato comes a poor second to pricey onion in State matters. But that was before Mamata Banerjee wielded the knife.
Over the past couple of days,the West Bengal Police,directed by the Chief Minister,has seized thousands of trucks carrying potatoes to neighbouring states such as Orissa,Jharkhand and Bihar. Mamatas provocation was the rise in the price of the vegetable back home. However,while potato prices have stabilised to some extent in Kolkata,they have shot up to
more than Rs 35 a kilogramme in many of the neighbouring states because of her move.
The first sign of a retaliation came Saturday when protesters in Orissa blocked over 40 trucks near Dantan on the border between the two states. The trucks were carrying onion,fish and other items to West Bengal,and the blockade continued for several hours.
According to sources,while Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik has requested Mamata to resume the supply of potatoes,she has not responded so far.
Orissa Chief Secretary Jugal Kishore Mohapatra said he had also had a discussion with his West Bengal counterpart. The Chief Secetary assured us of lending all possible help. I understand a political decision on this has to be taken, said Mohapatra.
Bengal is the largest supplier of potatoes to Orissa,and everday over 350 to 400 truckloads from the state carry the commodity to Orissa on a regular basis.
Hopeful of a solution after a meeting in Bengal Monday afternoon,Orissa State Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare Secretary Madhu Sudan Padhi said since potato is not covered under the Essential Commodities Act,the government had no other option but to depend on the traders.
We are trying to get some potatoes from Kanpur and also from within Orissa. But the situation will improve only when supplies resume from Bengal, he said.
Mamatas words last week,while inaugurating a Jagaddhatri puja in Burrabazar,Kolkatas wholesale market hub,were clear: I will not allow our own people to be deprived of potatoes while traders gain by sending these to other states. Potatoes will go to other states only after our own people are catered to properly.
Additional DGP,Enforcement Branch,M K Singh confirmed that over 900 trucks carrying potatoes produced in Bengal to other states had been stopped at the border. However,potato movement from any other state like Jharkhand or Bihar to states in the Northeast was not stopped,he said.
The truck drivers and traders were not booked but their vehicles diverted.
The Bengal administration has also moved over 1,450 truckloads of the vegetable from cold storage in south districts to all over the state to stabilise the prices.
It is expected that the government may ease its crackdown after the emergency meeting called of the Essential Commodities Price Monitoring Task Force Monday.
Leaders from own Trinamool Congress fear that Mamata could face charges of flouting the principles of federalism,of which she is an ardent advocate,with her actions.
About a month back,Mamata had similarly picked up a quarrel with Jharkhand over release of water from DVC dams,which had left several Bengal districts inundated. Jharkhand had argued that the dams were almost at bursting point and it had no alternative but to release the water.
With inputs from Debabrata Mohanty in Bhubaneshwar
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