India tightens wheat stocks limits, no plan to axe import tax

By Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India will reduce the limit on the amount of wheat stocks that traders and millers can hold but it has no immediate plans to abolish the import duty on the grain, a top government official said, indicating sufficient local supplies.

Traders, wholesalers and big retailers will be allowed to hold only 2,000 tons of wheat against 3,000 tons allowed earlier, said Sanjeev Chopra, the most senior civil servant at the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.

India will also release more wheat stocks into the open market if required to curb prices during the coming festive season, he said.

“There’s adequate availability of wheat, rice and sugar in the country but some unscrupulous elements are trying to take advantage of rumours about supplies,” Chopra said.

After a drop in output, India banned wheat exports last year, followed by a ban on non-basmati white rice this year. New Delhi capped sugar exports this year and is unlikely to allow mills to ship out the sweetener in the next season beginning October.

Chopra said recent export curbs have helped India ensure adequate availability of staples such as rice, wheat and sugar.

“Despite sufficient stocks, a sense of artificial shortage is being created in the country,” he said.

His comments will allay concerns about a potential squeeze in supplies during a series of festivals in October and November.

“The government is fully prepared to meet festival demands for rice, wheat and sugar,” Chopra said.

He said the country’s sugar inventory stood at 8.5 million tonnes in August, sufficient to fulfil the requirement of more than three and half months.

“There were some concerns about the sugar cane crop due to inadequate rains in August, but September rains in Maharashtra and Karnataka have helped the crop,” he said, referring to India’s top cane-growing states.

India is the world’s second biggest producer of sugar, wheat and rice.

Edible oil prices have come down in the last few weeks, tracking price movements in overseas markets, but there is no proposal to raise import duty on edible oil, he said.

Wheat prices are trading near their highest level in seven months, while sugar prices on Thursday rose to their highest in six years.

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Writing by Rajendra Jadhav;Editing by David Goodman and David Evans)