Rice prices escalate as politicians trade charges

  • Rice millers manipulating prices: JVP
  • Shortfall result of drought: Rice millers
By Damith Wickremasekara

A Sunday Times survey revealed, the shortage of rice in markets continued, with prices soaring and quality dropping. Most shops and super markets said some varieties now on sale were no longer available as rice mill owners were not putting them into the market, instead a variety of imported Basmathi rice selling at prices ranging from Rs. 90 upwards to about Rs. 250 per kilo were available in most super markets.

Two prominent rice mill owners told the Sunday Times the current shortage in stocks was caused by the drought which was followed by heavy rains in rice growing areas.

With stocks of imported potatoes reaching Colombo, the price of potatoes at the Dambulla market fell from Rs. 110 a kg to Rs. 55.

Dudley Sirisena --owner of the Araliya rice mills-- president of the All Island Mill Owners Association told the Sunday Times due to the drought they did not receive the anticipated stocks of rice and therefore had not been able to meet market demands.

Mr. Sirisena the brother of the Minister of Agiriculture (Maithripala Sirisena) told the Sunday Times government intervened to release buffer stocks in order to prevent a drastic increase in prices or severe shortages.

He said rice prices had increased particularly in rural areas as most stocks had been sent to urban areas. He denied allegations by the JVP the scarcity of rice had been created by main mill owners hoarding stocks.

Mr. Sirisena said nearly 20,000 metric tonnes of rice were to be imported and the situation would ease in coming weeks.“We believe it will take another 10 days for the situation to normalise” he said.

The Deputy Minister of Agrarian Services Siripala Gamlath, brother of the owner of Nipuna mills told the Sunday Times the JVP was not correct in saying paddy owners were storing paddy without milling it.

“The problem has been with us for nearly three weeks and we expect this problem will be over in a week or two as the harvesting season has commenced”, Mr. Gamlath said. However JVP MP for the Polonnaruwa district said the main rice millers had manipulated the situation by not releasing stocks to the market in time to increase their profit.

He called on the Government Agent of the district to inspect the paddy stores of the main millers.
JVP MP Vijitha Herath alleged the rice shortage was created in order to find money for the election campaign, by allowing a single importer to make profit and divert the money to the campaign.

He said the trader who had been allowed to import rice had been allowed a commission of one rupee per kg and that particular trader was due to import 40,000 metric tons of rice of which 25,000 tonness had already been imported.

Mr. Herath said the trader concerned had been promised a plot of land from the Sathutu Uyana, in Victoria Park, Colombo to put up an amusement park or a play area for children.

Our Correspondent in Polonnaurwa said despite the area being one of the main rice producing region there was a severe shortage of rice, resulting in people being forced to purchase rice at exorbitant prices.

He said the average price of rice in the area was around Rs. 100 per kg and imported stocks were yet to reach the market.

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