A united Opposition on Wednesday cornered the government in the Rajya Sabha on rise in prices of essential commodities, even as Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar claimed that food prices were coming down. He also refuted Opposition members' allegations of a scam in sugar imports.
Replying to a discussion on price rise, Mr. Pawar said prices of some of essential commodities such as sugar, pulses, flour, potato and onion had declined, while that of other commodities would come down soon. “High food inflation is a matter of concern and the government has taken several measures to bring down prices. These efforts have started showing results as prices of commodities have started declining,” he said amid repeated interruptions from Opposition members, particularly those belonging to the Left.
Mr. Pawar refuted charges levelled by CPI(M) member Brinda Karat and BJP's Ravi Shankar Prasad of “great scam” in sugar imports. He said: “Not a single kg of sugar was imported by the government. To improve the supply situation, the government has removed all import restrictions on raw as well as refined sugar… already 50-lakh tonnes of sugar has been imported. We have also increased minimum support prices for sugarcane to improve production.”
Ms. Karat and Mr. Prasad alleged that state agencies played a dubious role by not importing sugar and leaving it to the private traders, who were hoarding sugar and selling it in the black market. Sugar prices had more than doubled in the retail market in the last one year.
Mr. Pawar said severe drought and floods led to low kharif production, but efforts were on to compensate the loss in rabi season. “Food grain production rose in 2009, but production of pulses and sugar was down. However, rabi prospects are bright as sowing has been better. The overall crop production scenario is encouraging and it will help bring the prices down.” An increase in the minimum support price of various commodities also led to increase in food prices.
The government had taken several steps to contain prices and was willing to take more measures. “Whatever steps required have been taken and will be taken by the government. Similarly, there will be no cut in the quota meant for the public distribution system. Nor there would be any hike in its prices. The food subsidy, which was Rs.19,000 crore six years ago, has gone up to over Rs.60,000 crore.”