He says it will benefit farmers; Opposition cries foul

Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma kicked up a controversy with remarks that he was “happy” over the rising prices of food items as it would benefit farmers. This evoked sharp criticism on Monday from Opposition parties and UPA supporter Samajwadi Party (SP).

The SP went to the extent of threatening to withdraw support to the UPA government if Mr. Verma was not removed as Minister.

“Dal, atta, rice and vegetables have become expensive. The more the prices, the better it is for farmers. I am happy with this inflation,” Mr. Verma told reporters on the sidelines of a function here on Sunday.

He said the media was making a hue and cry of increasing prices. “Media says the cost of food has increased, but it is benefiting farmers... and the government is in favour of farmers’ profit.”

Besides the SP, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (United) attacked Mr. Verma, accusing the Congress and the government of being oblivious to ground realities and ignoring the plight of the common man.

Mr. Verma defended his remarks, saying he had spoken about the need for farmers to get remunerative prices for their products. “I said I feel happy when there is a price hike of products, which farmers need. I am repeating what I had said yesterday,” Mr. Verma told reporters here.

“The rise in the prices of potato, tomato and other vegetables is always highlighted. But this doesn’t happen when prices of cement, steel and cloth goes up. Fees of public schools and medical and engineering courses have gone up manifold, making it extremely difficult for children of farmers to pursue those,” he said.

SP leader Mohan Singh said: “His remarks are highly irresponsible. It clearly shows that he is not in touch with ground realities. Farmers are not getting remunerative prices, be it for vegetables or other products.”

Asked about Mr. Verma’s remarks, Law Minister Salman Khurshid said it should be viewed in the right context.

“If the farmer gets a good price for his yield, then it is inevitable that market prices will also go up,” he said, adding that the Prime Minister’s economic advisers and the Planning Commission were there to deal with such issues and keep a check on inflation.

If the recent steps taken by the government, including cut in interest rates, are viewed holistically, one will understand the context under which Mr. Verma made the remarks, Mr. Khurshid said.

Targeting the Congress, the BJP said Congress leaders were not affected by inflation. “They are not seeing the plight of the people as a result of rising prices. It shows their mentality,” party leader Shahnawaz Hussain said in Delhi.

Senior party leader Murli Manohar Joshi said inflation affected the farmers the most due to the hike in the prices of fertilizers, seeds, power and water rates.

The BJP’s Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi wondered whether the government knew that farmers, like everyone else, were equally affected by the overall rise in prices.

“The government has become a protector of mafias who manipulate prices. The aam aadmi (ordinary citizen) is reeling under mounting inflation and this government is happy about it,” he said.

“The Congress talks about aam aadmi but it has drifted a long way away from them,” Mr. Naqvi added.

Condemning Mr. Verma’s statement, BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu said: “This speaks of the Congress party’s mindset about their anti-farmer attitude and lack of ground reality. They are insensitive to the suffering of the masses.”

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