Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has condemned the government’s decision to import nearly eight lakh tonnes of wheat at Rs.1,600 a quintal.

The party’s Polit Bureau demanded an end to the policy on wheat import, and that the stock cornered by traders be unearthed and supply through the public distribution system be increased.

“When the production increased to nearly 75 million tonnes this year, there was absolutely no justification for such an import. It will only benefit the multinational corporations in European countries, which have got a lucrative price,” it said.

In a statement here on Wednesday, the Polit Bureau chided the government for fixing the price at only Rs. 850 a quintal though the market price was higher and peasants’ organisations were demanding remunerative prices for procurement. As a result, the Food Corporation of India failed to procure sufficient quantity, while private traders could purchase a huge quantity and store it in godowns, creating an artificial scarcity.

Brinda Karat writes to Manmohan, seeks probe

CPI(M) leader and Rajya Sabha member Brinda Karat urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to institute an enquiry into the import of wheat at a price much higher than prevailing in the domestic market.

In a letter written on Wednesday, Ms. Karat also requested him to reconsider the policy of privatisation of procurement of wheat which was proving to be beneficial to multi-national companies and Indian corporates, and not to farmers. “More importantly, it has also resulted in the erosion of food security,” she said.

“Since the rabi wheat crop at an estimated 74.5 million tonnes has been better compared to last year, it was possible for the government, with a more farmer-sensitive procurement policy, to have met the requirements for the public distribution system through domestic procurement. In April-May, the government paid Indian farmers Rs. 850 per tonne of wheat. Now, it is prepared to pay foreign traders Rs. 1,600 per tonne of wheat.”

Ms. Karat pointed out that the present import requirement was 13.06 lakh tonnes. For this, she said, the government had paid Rs. 1934.88 crore at the declared prices. For the equivalent amount of wheat, Indian farmers were paid Rs. 1,110 crore.

“The government thus paid Rs. 824.88 crore less to Indian farmers. Even if the price of transport charges and other expenditures are added, the price of imported wheat is much more than that given to Indian farmers. Can such a policy ever be defended?”

Methods questioned

Questioning the methods for imports, she said the declaration that the government would import 50 lakh tonnes of wheat this year tended to push up prices.

In May, the government floated a tender for 5 lakh tonnes of wheat and received bids at an average price of $263.

“This order was cancelled by the government on the ground that the price was too high. However just two months later, the government imported the same amount at $325.59 a tonne, leading to a loss of Rs. 127.93 crore.

“Shockingly, this was compounded by a further import order for almost 8 lakh tonnes at an even higher average rate of $389.45 which meant a further loss of Rs. 412 crore. Thus, the faulty policies of import have led to a loss of Rs. 540.09 crore. What were the reasons for cancelling the initial order? What were the reasons for staggering the tenders when this only benefits big traders to push up prices? I request you to institute an enquiry into the matter.”

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