Kolkata: Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday assumed temporary charge of the state agriculture marketing department in the wake of increasing criticism of the West Bengal government`s handling of the situation rising out of scarcity of potato in the city`s retail markets.
"I have told Arup Roy (agriculture marketing minister) that from now on for some days I would look after the department`s work, though he will continue to remain its minister," Banerjee told reporters after a high-level meeting with state finance minister Amit Mitra, chief secretary Sanjay Mitra and senior government and police officers.
Concerned over "artificial scarcity" of potato after the state government pegged the price of the commodity in retail markets across the city at Rs 13 a kg, Banerjee today warned of strict action against hoarders including cancelling licenses of "dishonest" traders.
"We will take action against those fleecing the common man. There is adequate supply. But, hoarders are trying to create artificial scarcity of potato after it was decided at a joint meeting between the state government and the traders recently to sell potato at Rs 13 in the retail markets and Rs 11 in the wholesale markets," Banerjee, who paid a surprise visit to some city markets including the Koley Market at Sealdah during the day, said.
"They are not keeping their words," Banerjee said referring to the traders` representatives who were co-signatories along with government officials on a leaflet released after the recent meeting, confirming the price.
"Nobody should think that our government is weak. Stern action would be taken against hoarders and dishonest traders. We are shortlisting their names. Police, state enforcement branch and other agencies would conduct raids. Some of them are now hiding at Ghatshila and Jalandhar. We are keeping a tab," Banerjee said.
Assuring that the situation would normalise within two days, she warned that the licenses of "dishonest" traders would be cancelled.
"A few of the 67 trucks loaded with potato were hid at secret locations by dishonest traders yesterday after the commodity was taken out from a godown at Hooghly district for delivery at different markets in Kolkata," she alleged.
"Steps are being taken to locate them and identify the culprits," she said.
The Chief Minister also said potatoes would be taken out from cold storages by November 30 for sale.
"If anyone thinks that the government has no right to clear the cold storages, let me say, it has every right," she stressed.
Till the requirement for the state was not met, the government would not allow the produce to be sent to other states, she said, adding the Chief Ministers of Odisha and Assam have already requested her on the supply of potato to their states from West Bengal.
On last Thursday, Banerjee had ordered the borders of the state to be sealed to stop movement of vegetables, onion and potato, in a desperate move to curb prices.
She said for making more profits, a section of traders were trying to transport the commodity to other states.
The Chief Minister said the city police commissioner, the DMs, SPs, SDOs and BDOs have been asked to keep a constant watch on the situation.
She added though the state government had financial constraints, it would arrange for transportation of potato to the markets in the city.