Expressing deep concern over the rise in prices of essential commodities, the CPI(M) on Monday demanded that the Centre should take effective steps to provide relief to the people from the crushing burden compounded by drought in various parts of the country.

“Relentless increase in prices of essential commodities has impacted the people, more so on account of severe drought, which, the Agriculture Minister says, is affecting 50 per cent of the districts. The Prime Minister’s speech notwithstanding, it is the signal failure of the Central government as there is no relief for the people,” the Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat said.

Addressing a press conference here, the CPI(M) MP said while people wanted concrete steps, unfortunately the government was trying to shift the responsibility and blaming States.

Instead of providing drought relief, the Centre had slashed the over 70 per cent of allocation of Above Poverty Line foodgrains. On the sugar front, the Centre’s polices led to sharp hike in the prices with only sugar mills making profits while both sugarcane growers and people suffered. “It is a sugar scandal in the offing,” she said.

Ms. Karat said the government announced Rs. 81 a quintal for sugarcane instead of Rs. 125 recommended by the Agriculture Prices Commission, leading to a decline in production. It allowed exports by providing incentives and permitted duty-free import since January.

“Neither the consumers nor the farmers benefited from the government’s sugar policy while some big companies did,” she said. There were no estimates of the imported raw sugar stocks in the country being held by big firms, sweet-making or cola companies.

The CPI(M) leader said the proposed food security Act should universalise public distribution system, be delinked from Central government poverty estimates, provide 35 kg of foodgrains at Rs. 2 a kg per nuclear household, include provision of pulses, sugar, cooking oil and kerosene at subsidised rates, incorporate Central government’s food and nutrition schemes, and promote national self-sufficiency in production of foodgrains, pulses, sugarcane and oilseeds through public investment.

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