The last time India faced an artificial salt crisis in 1998 was followed by a ‘genuine’ crisis of onions and potatoes. The first panic buying too started in Bihar then. The rumour started after a cyclone had struck Gujarat affecting production of salt production. The present ‘crisis’ too originated in Bihar followed by panic buying in Odisha five days ago in the wake of closure of many salt-producing units in the state since cyclone Phailin the eastern coastline last month. In 1998, it happened in the beginning of November when elections were due in some states and the general elections the next year. The situation is similar this time. All these similarities compel one to take the government claim about an ‘artificial crisis’ with a pinch of salt. Crisis of vegetables such as onions and potatoes leading to rising prices can be accepted to some extent without blaming illegal hoarding as the prime reason. But the present scene surrounding salt is nothing but anarchy, which happens only in India.
Rumours and superstitions often cause colossal damage in the country. They play the key role be it a stampede, the gold hunt in an UP temple to realise the dream of a ‘saint’ or the oft-repeated crisis of onions. Frantic buyers rushed to shops in the hunt of salt in the state capital Shillong and elsewhere following the crisis in Bihar was flashed in the media. Many people bought stocks for up to six months of the item, which is not costly compared to other essential edibles. By this morning, almost none of the shops in all prime localities sold out their available stock. Though some of the shopkeepers took advantage of the situation to charge more money, the primary blame goes to the buyers. An actual crisis might occur now even if there was none, thanks to the panic buying. Even if there is a conspiracy behind spread of the rumour, the consumers themselves can overthrow it by having patience. The commodity is used in very less quantity and hence lasts long. A family does not need to buy it in bulk and there is no holocaust-like situation where you might need the supplies for endless period. The Indian mindset has a long way to go to attain maturity.