Shimla: Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal, Chief Minister, has urged Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, to bring cement as controlled item within the purview of the Essential Commodities Act to provide commodity to consumers at reasonable rates. In a letter written to Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prof Dhumal said that the cement produced in Himachal Pradesh was available at cheaper rates in the neighbouring States of Punjab and Haryana than Himachal Pradesh which was a matter of concern of the State Government. He said this had come up for discussions in the recently concluded Winter Session of Himachal Pradesh State Legislative Assembly also.
Chief Minister said that it was in year 2002 that the cement had been decontrolled under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, presumably done to facilitate market competition in cement production and marketing on the analogy of Government of India’s general policy of economic liberalization. He said that it had harmed the consumers in Himachal Pradesh instead of benefiting them. He wrote that in a free market economy, it was assumed that the market forces would throw up the ideal retail selling price of cement at any given location on account of competition amongst several suppliers. He said that such ideal free market conditions did not exist at any locations in Himachal Pradesh, especially in the interiors of the State, keeping in view the difficult hilly terrain, relatively low volume of cement consumption, high transportation costs etc. He said that the cement companies had been fixing retail selling prices at various locations in the State in an arbitrary and irrational manner and as a result, an ironical situation had arisen while three major cement producing companies were located in the State.
Prof. Dhumal wrote that the State Assembly had debated the issue extensively and all members were of the view that the cement prices in the State need rationalization with the intervention of the State Government to protect the interests of the consumers. He said that since lots of construction activities were taking place in public and private sector and its higher price had been pinching the common man besides having an impact on the costs of infrastructure development. He urged the Prime Minister to decontrol cement and bring pricing back within the purview of the Essential Commodities Act.