Rumour leads to panic buying of salt in Bihar

PATNA,Nov 15, 2013 --- There was panic buying of salt in different districts of Bihar and its capital on Thursday following rumour about the shortage of the most essential item in the kitchen of every household. Though the state government denied any shortage, shopkeepers had a field day and sold salt from Rs60 to Rs150/kg.

Food and consumer protection minister Shyam Rajak blamed the BJP for spreading the rumour. BJP spokesman Suresh Rungta, however, rebutted Rajak's allegation and said government should ensure adequate supply of the essential commodity.

"An unsubstantiated rumour has spread in Darbhanga, Sitamarhi, Samastipur and Madhubani districts about shortage of salt in the market due to reduced supply of the commodity from Gujarat, prompting the consumers to panic and buy it for Rs70 per kg at some places," Rajak said at a press conference. "Officials of the affected districts have been directed to probe the situation and crack down on the hoarders," Rajak added.

More than six persons were arrested from Bettiah, Nirmali, Supaul, Darbhanga and Madhubani for spreading the rumour. The maximum retail price of salt of different companies is between Rs16 and Rs20 per kg.

Rajak said the department officers made public announcements about the availability of salt in abundance at prescribed rates and consumers stopped the panic buying.

A supermarket on Fraser Road in Patna exhausted its stock of 800kg as people resorted to bulk buying. A departmental store owner in Patliputra Colony told TOI, "Generally I sale ten packets every day but I sold over 50 packets on Thursday after the rumour spread about its shortage."

Surprisingly, bags of salt were left abandoned outside a few posh bungalows in Patliputra Colony.

Rajak warned that those engaged in hoarding and black marketing of salt would be arrested under section 7 of the Essential Commodities Act.

The department's principal secretary, Shishir Sinha issued instructions to all DMs and SDMs directing to raid the hoarders' premises. The government announced that four lakh bags of salt would reach Patna from Gujarat and Rajasthan in the next two days. The government also released salt stock position in different districts.

The administration swung into action following rumours of salt shortage in Samastipur, Sitamarhi, Katihar, Purnia, East Champaran, West Champaran, Supaul, Madhepura and Madhubani districts.

Supaul DM L P Chauhan told TOI over phone that there was no shortage of salt in the urban areas, but reports of black marketing were pouring in from the rural areas.

Kisun ji, a salt retailer at Mina Bazar in Motihari, said salt is available in the market but people are buying to stock it.

"People are being informed about the rumour. Stern action will be taken against rumourmongers," Madhepura DM Gopal Meena said.

Purnia SDO Raj Kumar rubbished such rumours and denied any shortage of salt.

A flurry of phone calls around 4pm on Thursday resulted in a melee in the Bettiah market and salt price zoomed to Rs100/kg. West Champaran DM's OSD, Manoj Kumar, said police stations have been alerted.

People in Begusarai woke up amidst rumours of salt crisis and there was a mad rush to buy it a premium. Begusarai DM Manoj Kumar said there was no shortage of salt in the district. However, a team of officials led by Begusarai SDM S P Mishra swung into action and warned the wholesale dealers not to charge extra. However, people were spotted carrying a bag containing 25 packets of salt to avoid impending crisis.

People rushed to the nearest shops in Samastipur town and villages for panic buying of salt. Vijay Sah of Pethiagachi Road area in Samastipur said he bought two sacks of salt for at least nine months. The district president of Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA), Surendra Prasad Singh, led a group of youths and staged a protest march in the town demanding action against the rumourmongers. The district administration also made announcement on public address system that hoarders would be punished. [TOI]

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