New Delhi: The high prices of pulses, however, arise from the long-term issue of supply falling short of demand by “about five million tonnes”, Jaitley said in his TV interview, terming the shortfall a “serious challenge” for the government to tackle.
The demand-supply gap could be even wider than five million tonnes.
A source in the food ministry said: “As against the average supply of 17 million tonnes of pulses, the national demand is about 24 million tonnes. India is largest producer of pulses but also largest consumer and a very large importer.”
The ministry confirms that about 5.5 million tonnes of pulses were imported in the last financial year.
This year too the government is looking to import pulses from Myanmar, Mozambique and other countries, the source said.
He said pulses are generally imported by private traders as well as public-sector agencies.
“But to avoid black-marketing, government-to-government contracts have been planned with countries like Myanmar to import the stuff for enhanced buffer stocks,” the source said.
The government decided on June 16 to enhance pulses’ buffer stock from 1.5 lakh tonnes to eight lakh tonnes.
At the same time, the government is looking for ways to boost domestic production, especially by better incentivising the farmer to shift to cultivation of pulses.
“Farmers often give up cultivating pulses for want of incentives and shift to paddy. Besides, to cultivate pulses, you need labour and this is also an uncertain crop,” said an official in the agriculture ministry.
The government has decided to procure more pulses this year and also announced higher minimum support price (MSP) for the Kharif or the crop cultivated in summer.
“Higher MSP for pulses will give a positive signal to farmers to increase acreage and invest in increase in productivity per acre,” the source said.
The Centre has urged states to take pulses from the buffer stock at a subsidised rate of Rs 66 per kg and sell in retail markets at Rs 120 per kg.
Over 10,000 tonnes have been released to the states, including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu, for retail distribution so far.
Not many states, however, have come forward so far to buy from the buffer stock.