Sunday, February 25, 2018
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badal chatterjee

It was round 1999 when onion and potato prices both shot up at Allahabad as well. Onions had touched Rs60. Badal Chatterjee was then the ADM(Civil Supplies) as far as I remember and Alok Tandon was the District Magistrate. Sanjay Paul was then our reporter.  I recall how Badal created a furore by deciding to take a plunge into the dens of the hoarders.

He got the clearance from District Magistrate Alok Tandon. And this is what he did. He requisitioned five big vans of the  Essential Commodities Corporation and went to the Mandis. There he looked into the invoices of the wholesale traders. Giving them scope for 10 per cent profit, he purchased all their onion stocks at low rates. He then took these vans to the main vegetable markets. The van stood there with a loudspeaker announcing ‘Onions selling at Rs10 a kg’. In the retailers market onion was selling at Rs60. The people headed towards the van. Badal allowed each buyer to take two kgs at Rs10 a kg. This was done at other retail markets too. When  for a few days this was continued, the retailers found that no one was going to their shops. So gradually the prices came down.

Badal Chatterjee also took big risk in de-hoarding the potato stocks. I understand from reports that when they went to cold storages their stocks were in order. But in one case he could discover power theft I recall my reporter telling me that when Badal could find no fault, he just strayed behind the cold storage where some children were playing. He asked them: ‘How do they take electricity?’ They told him, ‘One is the straight, cable which you can see and the other is an underground one.’ This alerted him at once. The Power people had accompanied him on special request. They told him that the defaulter would have to pay a penalty of many lakhs. This spread panic among all cold storages hoarding potatoes and the next day markets were flooded with the vegetable. The result was that potato prices crashed from Rs 20 to Rs5 a KG..
I reminded Badal about this on phone the other day and also recalled the headline of the Patrika, ‘Badal Chatterjee, the heart throb of housewives’. He had a hearty laugh but confirmed that by and large what I was recalling did happen. Can’t the same methodology be tried today too? I asked. ‘Why not?’ But I guess we need an ADM of guts to do the needful. I don’t know who the ADM (Civil Supplies) is. But if he can quote this report and have a talk with Badal Chatterjee, he might get to know some of  the  methods he tried in order to de-hoard the stocks. I  am sure where there is a will there is a way. And, as said in the past too, if Badal could do it, why not others?  Or have times changed and hoarders have strong political links to protect them against such raids?

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