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India Takes Steps to Lower Mounting Food Prices

  • Anjana Pasricha

India has taken measures intended to slow the rise in food prices, which are at an 11-year high. India's economy has been reviving in recent months, but the country is grappling with high inflation.

Shoring up supplies of food is among the many steps being implemented by the Indian government to lower prices.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar says the government will sell large quantities of food grains being held in its stocks.

"Two to three million tons of wheat and rice will be released in the open market in priority over the next two months," said Pawar.

The federal government has also allowed duty free imports of sugar, and is asking state governments to cut food taxes. It will also boost the quantities of food grains to be sold at subsidized prices to low income people.

Food prices have soared since weak monsoon rains last summer lowered productivity of crops such as rice, sugar, lentils and oilseeds. Prices of sugar and potatoes have doubled in recent months, and rice is up by nearly 30 per cent.

The high prices are hurting middle income and poor people, who spend a large portion of their income on food. Nearly half of India's more than one billion people live on less than two dollars a day, and many are coping by cutting back on the quantities of food they usually buy.

The government says it has enough food stocks to meet demand during difficult times. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is calling on state governments to ensure that traders do not hold back food supplies from the market.

"State governments are again being advised to strictly enforce the measures to stop hoarding by traders, and to take stern action against hoarders under powers vested with them," said Pawar.

The government is hoping prices will begin to fall in the coming weeks, particularly if farmers reap a good winter harvest.

But soaring food prices are not the only worry for the government. Inflation exceeded seven per cent in December - the highest rate in more than a year.

Economists say the high inflation rate may prompt the government to gradually begin withdrawing stimulus measures such as low interest rates, which helped the economy recover from the global financial crisis.