Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar came in for a veiled attack within the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Friday as it discussed spiralling prices of essential commodities. While CWC members were one in insisting that no Minister was named at the meeting, there was a general feeling that the Agriculture Ministry should refrain from projecting a grim situation on food stocks as it only encourages black marketeers.

Many a CWC member pointed out that while there was no shortage as such of food grains, statements from the government indicating a possible worsening of the situation invariably resulted in hoarding and consequent rise in prices.

Officially, however, chairman of the Congress media department, Janardan Dwivedi, maintained that no Minister was singled out for criticism. He also categorically denied that there was a demand to bifurcate the charge under Mr. Pawar who currently presides over Agriculture, Food & Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs.

According to Mr. Dwivedi, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee sought to assure the Congress central leadership and Chief Ministers – who were invited for this meeting which doubled up as a pre-Budget exercise to gather inputs from the party – that the situation would improve soon.

Dr. Singh said the government was trying to improve the price situation by increasing availability through increased production. Measures were taken by the Centre in collaboration with State governments and the results would be visible soon.

‘India in better position’

Further, the Prime Minister underlined the fact that India had survived the global economic crisis and the country was in a far better position than most countries in the world. As to whether the Kirit Parikh Committee’s recommendation for decontrolling petrol and diesel prices was taken up, Mr. Dwivedi answered in the negative.

At the meeting, Chief Ministers briefed the party’s central leadership about the measures they were taking in their respective states to control the price line. In particular, Chief Ministers from the North-East complained about delays in release of stocks by the Food Corporation of India.

About the party’s response to the measures that Congress-ruled State governments had taken to contain escalating prices, Mr. Dwivedi said: “The CWC expressed satisfaction with what they were doing.”

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