The prices of essential commodities such as rice, wheat, pulses, sugar and vegetables are coming down as the “worst time is over, and we are on line for better days,” Union Agriculture, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Sharad Pawar said in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, amid walkout by the Opposition members.
The members of the National Democratic Alliance, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Left parties walked out in batches while Mr. Pawar was replying to a debate on the price rise. Only BJD member Bhartruhari Mahtab stayed to listen to Mr. Pawar.
Mr. Pawar was confident “there will be a change in the prices of commodities.” The Centre had taken appropriate steps to insulate the vulnerable sections from the impact of the price rise.
He reeled out statistics on the prices of essential commodities that prevailed three months ago, in the past one month, last week and on Wednesday to back up his claim.
Even the price of potato, which ruled at Rs.19 a kg three months ago, had come down to Rs.10 a month ago, Rs.9 last week, and on Thursday (February 25), it was Rs.4.50 a kg in Uttar Pradesh and Rs.2 in West Bengal.
Mr. Pawar said the Centre tried to protect the interests of consumers by providing food subsidy, , which went up from Rs.19,000 crore to Rs. 72,000 crore in six years. Because of the steps taken by States such as Bihar, Punjab and Haryana, the shortfall in the monsoon-affected kharif was limited to nine million tonnes, against the earlier projection of 16 million tonnes.
As for the sugar price, he said the sugar cane production had come down owing to drought in some States. At present, the country had a stock of 184 lakh tonnes of sugar against the requirement of 230 lakh tonnes. “I am confident that the country’s sugar requirement will be met through import.”
Mr. Pawar rejected the Opposition’s charge that the government was allowing export of essential commodities, including sugar. The export of rice, wheat, pulses, all types of edible oil and sugar was stopped. “We are not encouraging exports, and not a single grain of non-basmati rice variety is allowed to be exported.” The government had a sufficient buffer stock to ensure the availability of essential items.
Despite the loss in food production due to drought and floods, the Centre did not change, for so many years, the quantity as well as the issue prices of rice, wheat and sugar supplied under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (meant for the poorest of the poor) and the Public Distribution System for the Below Poverty Line and Above Poverty Line families. At the same time, the UPA government increased the minimum support price for wheat from Rs.640 a quintal a few years ago to Rs.1,100, and for the common variety of paddy from Rs.560 to Rs.1,000 a quintal. “Farmers are aware of the MSP, and they are hap