With prices of pulses showing no signs of cooling off, the Centre has taken further steps to boost the supplies by removing the duty on desi chana (Bengal gram) while extending the import window for yellow peas till October 31, 2024. Chana or chickpeas attracted an import duty of 66 per cent.

Through an extraordinary gazette notification issued on Friday night, the government announced the reduction of import duty on desi chana to nil, which will come into effect from Saturday, May 4, and also the extension of import window for yellow peas, which are used as a substitute for chana, till end-October.

In early April, the government extended the duty-free import of yellow peas by two months to June 30, 2024. Anticipating a shortfall in chana output, the government in December 2023 had allowed imports of duty-free chana imports till March 31, 2024 and subsequently extended it till April 30.

Chana prices have been ruling higher than the minimum support price (MSP) of ₹5,440 per quintal by 10-15 per cent across the key producing regions in Central India, mainly on account of lower production due to a dip in acreages. As per the second advance estimate, the chana crop size for 2023-24 is seen marginally lower at 121.61 lakh tonnes (lt) over the previous year’s 122.67 lt.

The bullish trend in the chana prices has made it tough for government agencies to procure pulse crops at MSP for the buffer stocks. As per the procurement data on the Nafed portal, the chana purchases stood at 765 tonnes in the current season.

‘Not a good move’

Stating that the latest change in policy was not a good move, Bimal Kothari, chairman, India Pulses and Grains Association (IPGA) said it will help pulses growers and exporters of Russia, Canada and Australia. “The cheaper imports will hurt the interest of Indian farmers and future crop prospects. Import is not an issue, but the government should have levied a duty on yellow peas so that the landing cost is close to the minimum support price of chana,” he said.

Kothari said the new yellow pea crop that will be harvested from July onwards in Russia, Canada and some European countries is estimated to be around 9 mt. IPGA, which was expecting some 1.8 mt of yellow pea imports till June-end, feels the imports will be more from the bigger new crop.

Chana exports from Australia to India after the removal of duty are likely to be around 1.5-2 lt, Kothari said. However, Australia will be harvesting new chana crop in November, just around the time of chana sowing in India which may impact the sentiment here, Kothari said. “The duty reduction on chana is a welcome step, but from the farmers’ view it is not good as they were getting good prices after a long time. As about 70 per cent of the crop has already arrived in the market, only those farmers who were holding their produce may get affected,” said Rahul Chauhan of Igrain India.

While India has been importing chana from least developed countries like Tanzania at zero duty, other major producers like Australia was unable to export due to the hefty duty, Chauhan said. India’s chana imports are likely to have more than doubled to 1.49 lt during 2023-24 over same period in previous year’s 59,255 tonnes.

The overall pulses production as per the second advance estimates for 2023-24 is seen lower at 234.42 lt compared to the previous year’s 260.58 lt. This is mainly on account of shortfall in production of urad, moong and chana.