Kolkata, July 15: Providing cheaper food is good politics for any government. And the Mamata Banerjee led West Bengal government has been doing just that by dotting Kolkata with mobile vans that provide fish, chicken, vegetables and fruits at reasonable prices to the consumer.
A number of government "fair-price" mobile vans selling chicken, fish and fruits have sprung up across Kolkata. Around 21 such vans, that attract attention with their message, now sell organically dressed chicken at prices well below the market rate. Eight stalls deal in fish and with the advent of Ramadan, half a dozen fruit stalls have opened.
"Chicken prices had shot up above Rs. 200 a kilo. That is when we decided to step in. The motive was two-fold - check the rising prices and discourage the illegal slaughter of the birds on pavements," Pradip Majumdar, advisor to the chief minister on agriculture and allied sectors, told IANS.
Mr Majumdar said with the government chicken shops doing brisk business, the prices have now dropped to below Rs. 150 - the ceiling fixed by the state.
"Basically, it is a mechanism to keep the prices of these commodities under control and set up a pricing benchmark to be followed by the market," said Mr Majumdar. While there is now one unit where the chickens are dressed and packed and sent to the stores, all the stalls would soon be equipped with advanced machines for providing organically dressed chicken directly to the customers.
After successfully selling chicken, the government has now followed it up by vending fish like Rohu, Katla Mrigal, Tilapiya at wholesale prices.
"Through our eight stalls in various city markets, we've daily been selling eight quintals of fish at wholesale rates. The initiative is not only giving fish cultivators good prices for their produce, the common man can also avail of their favourite fish at reasonable prices," Fisheries Minister Chandra Nath Sinha told IANS.
The fish stalls have been a big draw among customers for their prices are 20-25 per cent below the market rate. However, the initiative comes with a rider - a customer cannot buy more than a kilo.
Mr Sinha said his department would sit with civic bodies across the state to draw up plans to extend the initiative to other districts after the ongoing rural body polls.
Keeping with the trend, the government is now also selling fruits during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when soaring demand triggers a steep price rise.
While the public has welcomed the initiative with open arms, traders are unhappy.
"A section of traders is obviously not happy, but then the government is not here to vend. It is just a price control mechanism and whenever the government finds it necessary it may set up stalls to bring down the prices," said Mr Majumdar.
"We earlier sold potatoes and vegetables and now their prices are under control. The stalls are gentle reminder to the traders - don't inflate the prices," added Mr Majumdar.