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Kolkata/Patna/Shillong: A pinch of salt suddenly acquired a big bite in parts of West Bengal, Bihar and Meghalaya, its prices sky-rocketing on rumours of scarcity. At least nine people have been arrested as authorities rubbished scarcity reports.
The rumours triggered panic buying with prices shooting up to as much as Rs.100 - Rs.150 per kg in West Bengal and Bihar, and zooming to a staggering Rs.300 for a kg in Meghalaya.
In parts of northern West Bengal, like Siliguri, Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, people Thursday night rushed to markets to buy common salt, while traders overcharged the usually Rs.15-a-kg food ingredient at Rs.100-150 a kg.
North Bengal Development Minister Gautam Deb rubbished the reports of scarcity of salt and said a government notification has been issued in this regard.
"Some quarters are deliberately spreading this rumours which has led to the rise in the price of salt astronomically. But we want to assure everybody that there are large stocks of salt available in the state," Deb said.
State Agricultural Marketing Minister Arup Roy also assured there was no scarcity of salt.
In neighbouring Bihar, prices shot up to Rs.150 a kg in a day. Salt normally sells for Rs.8-Rs.16 per kg depending on its quality.
Nine people were arrested for alleged blackmarketing of salt from Darbhanga, Champaran's Bettaih, Barauni in Begusarai and Danapur in Patna districts since Thursday night, an official said.
"I have asked district authorities to lodge FIRs against the hoarders selling salt at rates above the maximum retail price...," Bihar's Food and Civil Supply Minister Shyam Razak told IANS in Patna.
Rubbishing the rumours, Razak said that reports of a salt shortage in the state were baseless.
According to reports reaching Patna, people in nearly a dozen districts, including Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Begusarai, Sitamarhi, Saharsa, Samastipur, Madhubani, Sheohar, have since Wednesday bought salt at Rs.50-150 per kg after rumours of salt shortage spread.
In Meghalaya, the situation was far worse as panic-stricken people Friday rushed to grocery stores and purchased salt at an unbelievable price of up to Rs.300 a kg.
The state government dismissed the rumours of scarcity and warned strict action against the hoarders and black-marketers as well as rumour-mongers.
The government also made public announcements about abundant availability of salt in the market.
People were seen queuing up in the market areas in Shillong to buy salt following rumours that there was a shortage due to reduced supply of the commodity from Gujarat.
Some of the shopkeepers immediately jacked up prices to anywhere between Rs.150 to Rs.300 a kg.
"I have instructed the state police to investigate the matter and to book those shopkeepers who have sold salt at exorbitant rates to consumers," Sanjay Goyal, the district magistrate of East Khasi Hills, told IANS.
Meghalaya Food and Civil Supplies Minister Clement K. Marak appealed to the people not to panic as there was sufficient stock of salt in the state.
"There is enough quantity of salt stock in the state, and the acute shortage of salt is only a rumour to create panic in the minds of the people," Marak told IANS.