Has there been an unbearable rise in the prices of essentials in the State? Depends from, which angle you look at the question. The government is certain that the price situation is fully under control with the prices of most essentials have either come down or are only marginally higher now.
But the Opposition thinks otherwise and contends that there has been a sharp increase in the prices of most commodities. The clash between the two sides over the issue culminated in the Opposition LDF members staging a walkout from the Assembly on Thursday.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy reeled off official statistics to buttress his argument that the price situation in the State was comfortable. There was a very marginal rise in the prices of rice, chilly and some varieties of gram, but the overall price situation was totally under control. In the case of rice, the increase was by a nominal 50 paise from Rs. 23.50 a kilo to Rs. 24 a kilo in the open market. In the case of several other articles, the prices had actually come down. For instance, in the case of sugar, the price had come down from Rs. 32 to Rs. 30-31 a kilo and in the case of dhal from Rs. 65 to Rs. 44-48 a kilo, he pointed out.
However, V. S. Sunil Kumar (CPI), who raised the issue through a notice seeking adjournment of the House, was equally firm in his contention that the prices of essentials, including vegetables, had gone up. He conceded that the price of rice had not risen substantially on account of the bumper crop this season.
However, the fact that the price did not fall showed that the government was unable to make any dent in the prices. The price spiral had come at a time when the farmers in the State were reeling under massive increase in the prices of most essential fertilizer varieties and people as a whole were suffering heavily on account of massive mark up in the prices of most essential drugs, he said.
What ensued was a lively exchange between the Chief Minister and Opposition members, particularly Deputy Leader of the Opposition Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, his party colleague T.M. Thomas Isaac and Mr. Sunil Kumar. The Chief Minister was happy that the Opposition had conceded that there was no rise in the price of rice in the State and attributed the stable prices to the Re. 1 a kilo rice scheme implemented by the UDF government.
However, Dr. Isaac demanded to know how the Chief Minister could claim that there was no price rise when the Central government itself had pegged food inflation well above 9 per cent. Mr. Chandy retorted that it only meant that prices had fallen in Kerala even when they rose elsewhere in the country.
However, Mr. Chandy was unable to convince Mr. Balakrishnan, who picked holes in his arguments citing Food Minister T. M. Jacob’s statement in the House that price rise had indeed impacted the lives of people.
The contradiction in the claims of the Chief Minister and the Food Minister’s statement showed that there was no collective responsibility in the government and not enough funds were being set apart for market intervention. Further, contrary to what was being claimed by the Chief Minister, the prices of vegetables had flared up over the last three months. If there was no all round price rise, why should the government had sanctioned another installment of DA on July 1?
Why was the State government reluctant to tell the Centre to restore the administered pricing mechanism in the case of fertilizers and petroleum products? All this was indicative of the State government’s inability to show collective responsibility and its inflationary policies, Mr. Balakrishnan said.