Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Congress government in Chhattisgarh is grappling with an added trouble as the state witnesses a surge in the price of salt. There have also been reports of shortage and hoarding of this essential commodity in the last few days.
As part of efforts to combat the situation, the Bhupesh Baghel government on Thursday announced that it will sell salt to consumers above poverty line (APL) through the public distribution system (PDS) shops.
From June onwards, the PDS shops will sell up to 2kg salt at Rs 10 per kg to APL customers, an order from the department of food and civil supplies. Till now only BPL cardholders were entitled to buy salt from PDS shops.
Interestingly, Chhattisgarh is a state where salt always has remained an essential commodity given the large number of tribal population in the state. For decades, the traders from outside visited these tribal heartland, including Bastar, and exchanged commodities for salt.
As the legend has it, traders in the past used to trade a kg of salt with a kg of cuddapah almond (chiraunji), priced almost 100 times or more than salt.
Even today, salt remains a commodity which gives hiccups to state governments with rumours of shortage and hoarding. A rumour of this sort salt 1kg packets selling for Rs 250 in the state in 2016.
Exactly which happened on May 11 when a rumour started making rounds in the state and was followed by frantic buying of salt, leading to a price surge with 1 kg salt packet being sold at Rs 100 in several districts sending administration into tizzy.
The department of food and civil supplies had swung into action, raiding 276 stockists in Raipur, Durg, Bilaspur, Sarguja, Jagdalpur, Ambikapur and others, also penalising several of traders for selling salt above the MRP. The department affirmed that the state has daily supplies of 8,000-10,000 tonnes of salt and there was no shortage of this commodity.
Even Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel issued a statement on Wednesday that there was no shortage of salt in the state.
The data issued by the food and civil supplies department on Thursday suggested that at least 11,532 tonnes of salt is available in the state and more stock will reach the state in the next ten days.
Commenting on the state government's move of selling salt to APL consumers, Leader of Opposition in state assembly, Dharamlal Kaushik claimed that there was no dearth of salt and an artificial shortage was created to benefit a chosen few. He, however, backed the decision to offer salt to APL consumers.