How Sharad Pawar ex Agri Minister managed to keep food inflation high. Speculation in food prices likely to end Jun 1, 2014, 06.30AM IST TNN[ Bella Jaisinghani ] MUMBAI: It may be a while before backbreaking food prices drop, but the change of government at the Centre may already have brought some relief. If observers are to be believed, with Sharad Pawar no longer heading the crucial agriculture ministry, he does not have a psychological grip on market prices anymore. During Pawar's tenure, despite record foodgrain production each year, prices continued to spiral in retail markets in the absence of government intervention to check hoarding and profiteering. Tonnes of grain rotted outside government godowns even as the Supreme Court urged free distribution. As minister, Pawar was said to have repeatedly driven speculation by saying that onion prices would not fall, that sugar and rice production would drop, and to have "allowed" milk cooperatives to increase prices with regularity. Since 2009, the price of sugar has risen from Rs 18 to Rs 40 per kg, milk from Rs 24 per litre to Rs 44 per litre and kolam rice from Rs 30 to Rs 60 per kg. His party, the NCP, still controls the APMC, but has less of a say in policy matters under the Modi regime. "In 2013, for instance, there was a marginal 5-10% drop in onion production, but prices rose 400%. For two months, Pawar kept repeating on television that prices would not stabilise for another fortnight, and no one quite knew when that fortnight would end," said the head of a chain of cooperatives in Mumbai. "It is no secret that farmers and traders were holding stocks and taking the minister's cue to artificially raise prices." Households were paying Rs 20-25 per kg of vegetables until 2008. Since then, the average retail cost of cluster beans (gavar), french beans, lady finger and brinjal has risen to Rs 60-80 per kg. "Production of cash crops has come down drastically due to global warming. Pawar was only warning people of the situation ahead," claimed Sanjay Pansare, who heads the APMC's vegetable market. "The new BJP government will not be able to control food prices either." NCP loyalist Ashok Walunj, who heads the onion-potato market at APMC, was a little disappointed that "his government" had lost office. "The new incumbent will take time to understand how the ministry functions. Let us see if rates fall," he said.Virendra Singh, chairman of the NCCF (National Cooperative Consumers' Federation), said, "No one understands agriculture as Pawar does with his immense background in sugar and credit cooperatives. He is not responsible for food distribution."