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Assam: Price rise with potatoes at Rs 100 amid lockdown disrupt market. Here’s how

Continuous rise in prices of petrol and diesel has made vegetables and fruits costlier by at least 10-15% in the Northeast region of the country especially in cities like Guwahati, Itanagar, Kohima, Imphal, Shillong, Agartala, Gangtok and Aizawl. This is also affecting the youths including educated girls and boys of the Northeast who wants to be self-dependent and thereby has chosen green- business including farming and selling vegetables. Along with the rise in fuel prices, came the lockdown announcement. It has been hitting household budgets of many constantly especially in Kamrup metro in the Assam’s capital Guwahati where the government has enforced complete lockdown from 28th June.

A 14-day “total lockdown” began in all areas falling under Assam’s Kamrup metro district including Guwahati from 7 pm on Sunday in a bid to arrest the rising number of COVD-19 cases in the state which will be over at 6pm on July 12.

The economic fallout

According to wholesalers and traders, fuel prices play a major role in fixing the prices of vegetables and fruits. A manager of a vegetable and fruit wholesale unit Roing in eastern Arunachal Pradesh, said, “The prices of essential food items have started increasing in the last two days mainly because of transportation charges.”

“There is a marginal rise in transportation cost in the last fortnight. As a result, prices of vegetable and fruits have started increasing. Retail prices would see more impact as far as vegetables and fruits are concerned,” He added.

However,  Agriculture officers, said the increase in prices of vegetables and fruits was 10% less than last year during the same period in Assam. 

“There is no crisis of essential commodities. The only problem is that the growers in many parts of the state use diesel pumps in agricultural activities. The rise in fuel prices has impacted input cost, moreover, the first and second flush of floods have destroyed parts of vegetable crops” one of them added on anonymity.

However, in many parts of the region’s vegetable markets, tomatoes were being sold at Rs 60 per kg, potato at Rs 28 per kg, ladyfinger at Rs 20 per kg, pointed gourd at Rs 30 per kg and sponge gourd at Rs 20 per kg on Tuesday.

Naima, a vegetable seller in lower Assam, said, “There is not much rise in prices of potato and onion, but the prices of tomatoes have increased more than two-fold. The prices of vegetables might increase further,” she added.

Sweety, a house maker in Guwahati told the Inside NE, “Now, the price hike of vegetables have started badly affecting our kitchen budget”. Monu Pal, another vegetable seller in Assam, said, “Though the supply of vegetables is normal, retail prices saw a jump due to increase in fuel prices.” Mohd Hasnain, who sells fruits at Namsai, said prices of apple soared to Rs 240 from Rs 200 per kg, while there was a 10% rise in prices of different species of mangoes. “The prices of papaya, pomegranate and orange have increased by up to Rs10-18 per kg,” he said.

The economics at work

Sudarshan Mitra, an economist, said the rise in prices of petroleum products have influenced the prices of other commodities, including vegetables and fruits. “The rising fuel prices would have a cascading effect on other commodities. The prices might increase further as it is the autumn crops season. Farmers in the Assam as well as the whole of Northeast have started plantation and many of them need fuel for farming activities,” he said.

Also read: Assam: Floods have killed more people than Corona, yet no solution

Human interest: Assam

Meanwhile, the residents, who are already facing troubles due to Covid-19 pandemic, said the rising vegetable and fruit prices have hit their household budgets. Afsana Begum, a resident of Sivasagar, said, “No matter how much cost-cutting we do, the prices of all essential commodities will go up and impact the household budget. The prices of vegetables, fruits, cooking gas and oil have already increased. We now apprehend that prices of dairy products, meat and dry ration would also rise due to the increase in fuel prices.” Firdaush Ahmad, a resident of  Dimapur in Nagaland and teacher at a private school, said he did not receive salary for May and the month of June has also ended. “It will be very difficult for people like us to survive if the prices of essential commodities continue the rising trend,” he added.

How the Commerce work: The industrial side

To understand the economics of the market as well as the way ahead, Inside Northeast contacted Rupam Goswami, Chairman of Assam Chamber of Commerce. In an exclusive interview, he discussed key areas: demand and supply, the causes of price hike, people’s participation and the debate around health vs economy.

On the issue of price hike and lockdown, he said, “people have resorted to panic buying. This has disrupted the demand and supply equation. If you look at the price rise, the cost of perishables have only increased and not of dry goods like oil, pulses”. He raised another issue of retail market rates that might seem predatory. “In a small Bazar, everyone almost sells at a fixed market rate. During such instances of lockdown in Assam, these markets set the price by themselves. As such cost of leafy greens has seen a spike. It is not possible for any government to control the prices of these retail sections”.

On the issue of lockdown’s impact on the markets, he said, “Guwahati had around 800 beds and cases were rising in the hundreds per day. So, the lockdown was needed and now with the new hospital in Khanapara, more people will be accomodated. But, we will have to eventually live with this virus and prepare ourselves regarding that”.

Going forward: Assam

The lockdown has affected differently at an individual level in Assam. The privileged class have been able to stock the essential, but the daily wage labourers are finding it difficult to cope with both the price rise, making them vulnerable to both monetary and health hardships. Thus, it is extremely important to provide an alternative to them in terms of building a community kitchen. The government must also provide the basic essentials in a smooth manner. Further public participation is also required in this regard.

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