Salt shortage rumour fuels panic buying in Bengal

KOLKATA/MALDA/DARJEELING: Rumours ofshortage in supply of salt, fuelled by overpricing by some unscrupulous traders, triggered panic buyingin Bengal, Bihar and the northeastern states on Friday.Such was the rush in Kolkata and the districts that most shops ran out of stock by mid-morning . Those who turned up later stoked the rumour that salt had indeed vanished. Trade associations assured there was sufficient stock for months but the panic-buying did not stop. By the time the administration and business bodies circulated advisories on Friday , the damage was done.

“We can’t do without salt so I purchased 10kg as soon as I came to know of the scarcity on Thursday,” said Bharat Mothey, a resident of Darjeeling.

The rumour originated in Odisha and Bihar a couple of days ago. By Thursday evening, panic buying had started in Malda, North and South Dinajpur.

Do not buy more salt than needed: Darjeeling SP

Grocers took advantage of the rumours and sold packets of salt, priced at Rs 15/16, for Rs 70-100 a kg. As panic set in, godowns in Malda and North and South Dinajpur were ransacked. Five persons were arrested in Malda for black-marketing or looting, three in Raigunj and one in Hili. In Darjeeling and Kalimpong, police detained a distributor and 12 retailers for fuelling the rumour.

In Patna, chief minister Nitish Kumar ordered SPs and DMs to be on the streets to counter the rumours and 21 were arrested for hoardingblackmarketing and spreading canards. Seven traders were also arrested in Assam, where the administration repeatedly assured the people that there was enough stock to last at least six months.

In Darjeeling, even the morning chill couldn’t keep people indoors as they queued up outside grocers. SP Kunal Agarwal said he received information about the scare on Thursday evening. “On Friday morning, we held a meeting with distributors, the food and supply department and the district administration. We are also telling people not to purchase more than what they require,” he said.

Malda Merchant Chamber of Commerce secretary Jayanta Kundu said they had been flooded by panic calls since Thursday, “We kept assuring people there is no scarcity of salt and they should not pay more. We have stocks for at least two months,” he said.