Stocks comfortable, Centre monitoring prices, will take steps to curb any abnormal rise in wheat prices: Food Secretary

Tribune News Service

Vibha Sharma

New Delhi, November 23

Asserting that India was sitting on “stocks more than it required,” the Centre on Wednesday said it was closely monitoring the prices of wheat and would take necessary steps in case of any “abnormal” increase in rates in the retail market.

Wheat and rice stocks position was “comfortable and much above the governments buffer requirements,” Food Secretary Sanjeev Chopra said. While the decision to extend the free ration scheme PMGKAY beyond December lies with the appropriate authorities, Chopra added that there were sufficient stocks available to meet the demand in case the scheme is extended.

Amid concerns of spike in wheat prices despite an export ban, Chopra said while rice prices are just flat, wheat prices have gone up by around 7 per cent in retail since the imposition of a ban in May. “If we take into account the increase in MSP, the price rise is 4-5 per cent,” he said, adding that an inter-ministerial committee was monitoring the prices of essential commodities on a weekly basis.

Though since last year, the increase has almost been around 20 per cent. The government in May banned exports of wheat to boost domestic supplies and control prices.

The wheat procurement fell to 187.92 lakh tonnes in 2022-23 marketing year from 434.44 lakh tonnes due to fall in domestic output and aggressive purchase by private parties. Chopra said for the current KMS 2022-23, the government has set a target of 775.73 lakh tonnes (521 LMT in terms of rice). The estimate of Rabi paddy of KMS 2022-23 shall be fixed in February/March 2023. As on November 15, the FCI has 201 lakh tonnes of wheat and 140 lakh tonnes of rice in the central pool, FCI MD Ashok K K Meena said.

Meena added a quantity of 277.37 LMT paddy (185.93 LMT in terms of rice) have been procured up to November 21 in the current KMS 2022-23 which is higher as compared to 263.42 LMT procured during the same period last year in KMS 2021-22. At 178.83 LMT in Punjab the procurement is lower than last year’s 182.48 on the same day. Meena, however, said there were some delays due to rains and the procurement this year would match that last year.

Meanwhile, on whether the government was considering steps like stock holding limits and open market sale scheme to check wheat prices, Chopra said the position right now does not warrant any other measures other than what has already been done. “If we see any kind of abnormal increase in prices, then obviously, we will step in with measures at our command,” he said.

In September, the government also banned exports of broken rice due to an anticipated fall in production of rice in the wake of unseasonal rains and deficient monsoon in some eastern states. Meena said in comparison to last month, there is a marginal increase in retail and wholesale prices of wheat and wholesale price of rice. “There is negligible hike in the retail price of rice and prices are under control,” he said.

On edible oil, Chopra said international prices of cooking oils were on a downward trend and therefore, domestic retail rates were likely to reduce further.