Private Indian firms have imported 8,00,000 tonnes of wheat since August last year, about half the amount they had hoped to buy, a senior official said on Monday.
Further overseas purchases were unlikely, traders said, with prices now falling.
“Private wheat imports are at 8,00,000 tonnes so far. Whether to allow private players to import wheat duty-free beyond 28 February will be decided soon,” the food ministry official, who could not be named said.
In December, the government extended the window for duty-free imports to the end of February amid a lingering supply squeeze that had pushed up prices and forced India to order 5.5 million tonnes of imports.
Firms had expected to import 1.5 million tonnes but actual imports dropped short, first due to a fall in demand as prices rose, and later because of arrivals from the government’s import programme and a subsequent price retreat.
“Yes, we were planning to import about 1.5 million tonnes of duty-free wheat,” Prem Gupta, president of the Roller Flour Millers Association of India, said. But, private players were unlikely to import more as prices had started to drop, he added.
“Wheat prices in spot markets are at around Rs1,050 per 100kg, about Rs100 lower than a week ago,” he said.
The government last week decided to release 4,00,000 tonnes of wheat into open markets to tide over regional shortages, pulling domestic prices down.
Harvesting of this year’s crop will begin in March. India, the world’s second-biggest producer, expects to churn out 74 million tonnes of grain. Last year, the country produced 69 million tonnes. It grows only one wheat crop a year, mainly in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and central state of Madhya Pradesh.