The Central government has urged states to do away with all kinds of local taxes that are levied on essential food items. The move is aimed at ensuring there is adequate availability of pulses, edible oils and other essential food items, and that they are priced reasonably, according to an official statement from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution.

Union Department of Consumer Affairs Secretary Hem Pande has been quoted as telling the chief secretaries of states in a letter to "take up the market intervention on a real-time basis and to review APMC [Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee] Acts on priority to delist pulses and other essential food items so that farmers can sell their produce at any place of their choice, minimising stages of supply chain from farm gate to ultimate consumers."

The government believes this "will ensure reasonable prices for consumers and also fetch better prices for farmers." Pande has also cited the action plan adopted for this at the meeting of states food ministers that was held in May this year.

The statement also said: "States have also been requested to consider a pricing policy for pulses and such other essential food items under Section 3(2) (c) of the EC [Essential Commodities] Act and to make it enforceable for all the stake holders to cap the prices of essential commodities."

It added: "The secretary has also asked the states to implement the Price Stabilisation Fund Scheme for market intervention to enhance availability and check prices of essential. For successful functioning of the scheme, adequate and timely lifting of pulses from buffer stock is a pre-requisite, besides strengthening storage facilities for pulses, vegetables edible oils seeds and onions."

The Centre has also asked the states to look out for hoarding and black marketing of essential commodities, given that the festival season is about to begin, as some merchants have been known to use such tactics to maximise their gains as people suffer.

"Besides regular raids, strict action should be taken against habitual violators and speculators under the EC Act and PBMMSEC [Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities] Act, which provides for preventive detention up to six months," said the ministry in the statement, adding: "States may also consider creation of a dedicated force under the EC Act, on the lines of the Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Crime Investigation Department, for effective operations against hoarders, blackmarketeers, profiteers and unscrupulous traders or speculators of essential commodities."

It also said: "States have been asked to create a robust Information Management System of prices, production, availability, unscrupulous trading, hoarding, black-marketing and to strengthen the Price Monitoring Cells to have the ground-zero information available on daily basis and sharing it with all the enforcement agencies of Union and state governments."