Even as the Centre has announced plans for large-scale imports of pulses to control runaway inflation, there are many advocating caution with regard to any hurried floating of tenders that, they say, will only lead to further flare up in international prices.
Between March 31 and now, landed prices of Burmese ‘Lemon’ tur/arhar (pigeon pea) at Indian ports have risen from $935 to $1,160 per tonne, while going up from $935 to $1,260 for fair average quality urad (black gram) of the same origin. There has been a similar firming up in landed (cost & freight) prices of Australian chana (chickpeas) from $640 to $780 a tonne.
“The government shouldn’t go in for imports now when there is a dearth of supply in the global markets.
The new peas and lentil (masur) crops from Canada/US will arrive only in August-September, while it is October-November for Australian chickpea and December-January in the case of Burmese tur and urad,” said Pravin Dongre, chairman, Indian Pulses and Grains Association.
According to him, floating of tenders now will only lead to global prices — which have already hardened because of India’s production falling to 17.38 million tonnes (mt) in 2014-15, from the previous year’s 19.25 mt — going up further. “The government should wait till August before going ahead with imports,” he added.
Tejinder Narang, a grains trade analyst, felt that the government has erred in announcing its intention to import, “which will only encourage multinational traders to take bullish positions”. Any move to undertake imports has to be done silently, which is not the case whenever tenders are floated by state trading agencies such as MMTC and STC. The problem is even more in pulses, where the estimated annual global trade of hardly 15 million tonnes is less than India’s production.
Besides, there are political implications as well. The current landed price of imported Australian chana works out to Rs 4,700 per quintal, which is way above the minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 3,175 payable to farmers in India. The same goes for tur (Rs 7,400 per quintal for imported Burmese Lemon versus MSP of Rs 4,350) and urad (Rs 8,100 versus MSP of Rs 4,350).
“If the government does not increase pulses MSPs significantly this time and imports at high global prices, it is bound to attract criticism of favouring Australian or Canadian farmers at the expense of Indian growers,” a market expert pointed out.