NEW DELHI: The soaring prices of essential commodities will start coming down in 8-10 days, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said on Wednesday, adding that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called a meeting of the chief ministers here on Jan 27 to discuss the issue.

"With the measures we have taken, the prices of essential commodities are expected to start coming down in eight to 10 days," he told reporters here after a meeting of the cabinet committee on prices chaired by Manmohan Singh.

Pawar said the prime minister would also discuss the implementation of the Essential Commodities Act with the chief ministers.

Pawar also said that state governments were not lifting the wheat and rice stocks made available to them by the central government.

"We have made sizeable allocations of wheat and rice to the states but sufficient ammounts have not been lifted," he pointed out, adding that of the two million tonnes of wheat that had been allocated, only 159,000 tonnes had been lifted, while only 209,000 tonnes of the one million tonnes of rice that had been allocated had been lifted.

"After assessing the situation, the prime minister felt there should be a meeting with the chief ministers where he would appeal to them to lift the stocks that had been allocated," Pawar said.

He added that states had been told to take stern action against hoarders of food. "This will also be reviewed in the conference of chief ministers."

Additionally, steps will be taken to check smuggling of sugarcane and sugar from India to Nepal, he said.

Pawar also announced a major relaxation of norms for the import of raw sugar, saying it could be refined anywhere in the country and not only by the mill that had imported it.

"To expedite the refining of raw sugar and improve availability in the market, the government has relaxed the central excise rules to enable its processing in mills in any state," he said.

"Today, the import (of raw sugar) at zero duty is done under the name of a particular mill. It is supposed to be processed only in that mill. If it is processed elsewhere, then duty has to be paid. This measure has been waived," Pawar said.

He said the waiver had been granted as "a number of sugar mills in Uttar Pradesh had imported raw sugar for processing. However, the bulk of the sugar is still lying in Kandla and Mundra ports in view of restrictions by the Uttar Pradesh government on the movement of raw sugar.

"We have repeatedly requested the state government to lift the restrictions but to no avail," Pawar pointed out.

The government has already permitted the import of raw sugar at zero duty up to Dec 31, 2010. This facility has now been extended for the import of refined sugar.

"In order to ensure continuous availability of sugar in the market, refined sugar will be allowed to be imported at zero duty up to Dec 31, 2010. There will be no quantitative cap on imports," Pawar said. 

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