Retail chains face pulses stock rule

In th first week of June, government officials raised pulses stock disclosure with major retail chains.
In th first week of June, government officials raised pulses stock disclosure with major retail chains.

Summary

  • Private retail chains and online grocers such as D-Mart, ITC Foods, Big Basket, Amazon and Flipkart must now declare the amount of pulses they stock, as the government tries to curb the sharp rise in their prices.

NEW DELHI : Private retail chains and online grocers such as D-Mart, Reliance Retail, BigBasket, Amazon and Flipkart must now declare the amount of pulses they stock twice a week, as the government tries to curb the sharp rise in their prices.

The government recently directed millers, retailers, wholesalers, big retail chains, importers, processors and stockists across the country to disclose stocks every week. However, the norm has recently been changed to twice a week for big private retail chains. Its officials are verifying stocks at ports and pulses industry hubs.

“It has been noticed that big retail chains are not declaring their stock despite the mandate. The department of consumer affairs revamped the stock disclosure portal to include yellow peas and big chain retailer as an entity, which is effective from 15 April. These chains have some stock of pulses that they need to declare to avoid any price escalation," an official aware of the matter said on the condition of anonymity.

In the first week of June, government officials raised pulses stock disclosure with major retail chains, the official said, adding they are complying.

On Friday, all-India average retail prices of chana dal (Bengal gram), tur or arhar (pigeon pea), urad (black gram), masur (lentil) and moong (green gram) were at 85.2, 154.5, 122.5, 93.1 and 115.6 per kg, up nearly 14%, 25%, 10%, 0.6% and 5.5% year-on-year, respectively.

Also read: Racing pulses: Why aren’t dal prices dropping?

The consumer affairs department has revamped the stock disclosure portal to include yellow peas and “big chain retailer" as an entity, which is effective from 15 April.

“All these entities are very important. We are trying to engage with state governments, and all entities such as millers, importers, big retail chains, wholesalers and dealers. This is to tell them to act responsibly; this is not the best time to make a profit," the official added.

High food inflation

Though the headline inflation fell to 4.75% in May from 4.83% in April, the lowest in a year, food inflation, which accounts for nearly 40% of the overall consumer price basket, remained unchanged. It was 8.69% in May and 8.70% in April. By comparison, it was 3% a year ago. Inflation in pulses specifically moved up to 17.1% in May from 16.8% a month ago and 6.6% a year ago.

“Being a marketplace, we have proactively sensitized our sellers to adhere to government guidelines and regulations," a spokesperson of Flipkart said, while queries sent to spokespeople of the consumer affairs ministry, Reliance Retail, D-Mart, BigBasket, ITC Foods and Amazon remained unanswered till press time.

Also Read: Mint Primer: Red hot prices and other effects of the heatwave

Online retailers Flipkart and Amazon operate under the marketplace model, offering a platform where various vendors can sell their goods. Others like BigBasket and ITC Foods operate under the inventory model, selling their own goods.

“The problem is our reliance on imports amid poor carry-over stocks that typically cover six-seven months until the new season’s crop hits the market. But in the ongoing season (2023-24 kharif and 2024-25 rabi) carry-over stocks were for only two-three months. Prices may stabilize if monsoon turns out good. In case of erratic monsoon, this year too, it may push prices up further. The government has taken a few measures to curtail prices and has been asking the industry to cooperate and not make a profit amid such a situation," an executive from a leading retail chain said on the condition of anonymity.

Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO of Retailers’ Association of India, said he cannot comment on the matter.

Also read: New cell to track food prices soon

Crackdown on hoarding 

The government has been suspecting hoarding by the pulses trade for some time. “The impact of yellow pea imports must be reflected in chana prices but that has not been the case. The market and the price trend indicate supply tightness of chana, resulting in lower procurement by Nafed and higher purchase by private agencies. Either there is a problem with production, or people in the trade are manipulating the market," an official said in April. A Mint report at the time said officials plan to visit mandis across producing states to crack down on hoarding, in line with the effort to raise supply and stabilize prices.

“The ministry has also tasked a senior-level official to regularly monitor the registration of stakeholders on the portal meant for pulse stock declaration. Notices will be sent to those who fail to declare their stocks," the second official said.

Separately, the agriculture ministry is drafting a scheme to achieve self-sufficiency in pulses by 2027 in a bid to cut the government’s import bill. “We are trying to gain self-sufficiency in pulses in the coming 3-4 years. We are open to all kinds of support like we have in oilseeds. A new programme focusing on development is being prepared to promote pulses production in a big way and it is expected to come out in the next few days," a government official told Mint recently.

Also Read: Dead in the water: How heatwaves are killing fish

Still, private retail makes up a small part of the overall pulses trade. As of 7 June, big retail chains had declared pulses stock of 1,400 tonnes, unchanged from a week ago, the second official said. The total stock reportedly held by all entities or stakeholders is around 5.2 million tonnes.

Appreciating the decision, B.B. Singh, a former additional director general (pulses) of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), said, “Bringing big retail chains under the stock declaration mandate is a bold step towards ensuring the availability of pulses in the open market for consumers. It will put a check on any possibility of hoarding."

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