Rumours trigger panic-buying of salt in northeast India

November 15, 2013

Rumours of an impending salt shortage led to panic-buying in India’s north-eastern states and parts of West Bengal state on Friday, officials and media reports said, with a kilo of salt being sold for as much as 200 rupees ($3) compared to average retail selling prices of about 20 rupees (around 35 cents).

Witnesses reported people queuing up at grocery stores to stockpile salt packets, with several shops running out of the usually cheap and plentiful product a day after similar rumours surfaced in Bihar state.

On Thursday, the Bihar state government said that there was abundant supply of the condiment after panic-buying in several districts and state capital Patna following rumours of a reduced supply from Gujarat state, India’s biggest producer of salt.

A senior police official in Mizoram state said many stores in the state had run out of salt.

“Since early morning people have been rushing to buy salt, there is nothing left to buy in stores,” P.C. Chunga, the additional superintendent of police in Mizoram’s Mamit district, told Reuters over the phone.

Media reports said shoppers in other northeastern states such as Assam, Manipur and Meghalaya apart from northern Bengal also fell prey to rumours.

In Mizoram’s capital Aizawl, police and civil society groups were fanning out and warning shopkeepers not to hoard salt or sell it at inflated prices.

In Assam state, a state government minister denied reports of a salt shortage. A Reuters reporter in Assam said local media had picked up television reports of salt being allegedly in short supply in nearby Bihar, leading to panic-buying in Assam’s urban areas such as Guwahati, Dibrugarh and Jorhat.

“There is no such shortage of salt. People should not go for rumours,” Agriculture Minister Nilamoni Sen Deka told Reuters over the phone, adding there was sufficient supply of salt in government warehouses.

I also heard about incidents that happened in the place where I grew up. In Manipur, panicked residents besieged shops, Denis Zodinsanga, a 40-year-old graphic designer said. (full disclosure: he is my brother). Many shopkeepers in Churachandpur town, 60 km from state capital Imphal, said they were running out of salt.

“We had a meeting with the district council chairman and it was decided that no one should take any salt stock out of the town and sell them. And anybody selling above retail price will have their licence suspended from now,” Lalrikhumi, finance secretary of the Churachandpur Joint Women Organisation, a civil society group, told Reuters over the phone. (Another disclosure: Lalrikhumi is my mother)
The rumours were likely to have been sparked in Orissa earlier this week by reports of the destruction of salt pans in the wake of cyclone Phailin in October.

This isn’t the first time that rumours caused a price spike in India. In August this year, onion prices climbed sharply after a drought hit supplies. News outlets prompted even more price spikes when they cast the story as a major crisis.

(Additional reporting by Biswajyoti Das in Guwahati)

(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Robert MacMillan; follow David on Twitter at @davidlms25, Tony @tonytharakan and Robert @bobbymacReports. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission.)

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