Government ordered import of 6.5 lakh tonnes of pulses, the highest so far, to tide over the problem of soaring prices that's hurting household budgets. It's also looking at the possibility of leasing land in Mozambique to grow pulses.
The consumer affairs ministry has asked states to resort to all possible means to ensure pulses aren't sold beyond 120 a kg while the shipping ministry has been directed to keep strict vigil on pulses landing at ports to prevent hoarding. The government is ready to provide more funds to ensure procurement.
The decisions came after Wednesday's meeting convened by finance minister Arun Jaitley to deal with the surging prices of some vegetables and food items.
"The government has approved import of 3 lakh tonnes green lentil, 2 lakh tonnes yellow peas, 1 lakh tonne red lentil and 20,000 tonnes each of arhar and urad," consumer affairs secretary Hem Pandey said.
Two teams will soon visit Myanmar and Mozambique, he said, to finalise long-term supply contracts. The African country is keen to enter into long-term contracts with India.
"We can even lease land in Mozambique to grow pulses," Pandey said.
But a quick relief from the soaring tomato prices is unlikely, supplies of which have suffered because of drought in some southern states.
Tomato prices are likely to remain high for two-and-half months till August.
Price trends in the past four years show that rates shoot up in two phases - June to August and October to November - every year.
Latest government figures peg the country's tomato production at 18.28 million tonnes in the 2015-16 crop year (July-June) against last year's 16.38 million tonnes. But crop damage has impacted supply and the government may have to revise the estimate.
States have been told to keep vigil on veggie prices and ensure improved supplies amid reports of tomatoes selling at 80 a kg in certain parts of the country.
"Increase in vegetable prices, including tomato, is seasonal and area-specific. Still, we've asked states to take steps to ensure traders aren't inflating prices artificially. Every stakeholder must ensure there's no wastage during transportation and handling," said Pandey. Pandey also said the government does not want to increase procurement of pulses from the domestic market beyond 1.5 lakh tonnes to ensure market stability.
"I have asked the Maharashtra food secretary to explore the option of selling pulses at subsidised rates in Mumbai as is being done in Delhi and we will provide them pulses at subsidised rates. We will release the pulses available with us in the next four months," the secretary said.
The Centre has about 48,000 tonnes of pulses in stock and imports of another 20,000 tonnes are in the pipeline.
The government is pulling out all stops to ease the pain of spiralling prices of pulses and has included FM radio channels to spread awareness.