COLOMBO –The government on Tuesday (28) decided to remove strict controls on rice prices, allowing traders to make the decision, a move taken because the country is on the brink of a shortage of the staple food.
The move came after government attempts using emergency regulations failed to get traders to release paddy and rice stocks into the market, despite a move to appoint a top military officer with the powers to raid storage sites and force the sale at government-set prices.
“We have decided to release the price control to avoid any shortage in the markets,” Minister of Consumer Protection Lasantha Alagiyawanna said on Tuesday. The government also has decided to import 100,000 metric tonnes of rice to avoid any possible shortages, he said.
Hours after the price controls were withdrawn, traders increased prices by a minimum of US 20 cents per kilogram.
The government earlier this month increased the fine on traders selling rice at higher prices than those stipulated by the state. Accordingly, a fine of Rs 20,000 (US$ 100) was increased to Rs 1 million for individual traders, while companies violating the law saw fines leap from Rs 200,000 to Rs 10 million.
Though the fines remain by law, there is now no maximum sale prices for rice.
A government decision to ban the import of chemical fertilizer from May has also affected this year’s paddy harvest.