Special Correspondent

Denies charge that West Bengal was lax in containing bird flu

NEW DELHI: Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury on Sunday called for an immediate ban on futures trading in essential commodities.“The ban on just four commodities is not enough. Other essential commodities also need to be banned for futures trading so that the prices are stabilised,” he told reporters here.

The Centre had banned futures trading in wheat, rice, urad and arhar last year and constituted the Abhijit Sen Committee to find out if there was any link between price rise and futures trading. The panel is yet to submit its report.

Asked about the rise in prices of pulses despite the ban, he said the increase would have been much more had futures trading was allowed on them too.

“We [the CPI(M)] have been insisting that price rise could not be stopped unless the futures trading is stopped. We will continue to put pressure on the government on the issue.”

The futures trading in essential commodities introduced a great degree of uncertainty in prices and the speculation generated benefited only traders and not producers.

Oil price hike

Mr. Yechury said the party would oppose any move to increase prices of petrol and diesel. “The increase in crude oil prices has meant losses for the oil companies. But it has led to gain for the government because of increase in revenue on account of the ad valorem tax. The government must first use that surplus to compensate the oil companies instead of increasing petrol and diesel prices.”

Mr. Yechury denied that West Bengal was lax in tackling bird flu. The main problem was that the poultry units in the State were small and scattered, unlike in Maharashtra where the authorities could contain the outbreak in 2006 faster as the poultry farms were large.

“There was no delay at all in responding to the outbreak. Though the first case came to light on January 4, it was confirmed after laboratory tests only on January 8. Culling operations began the very next day, on January 9.”

There were problems too in restricting the movement of poultry birds from Bangladesh. When it was difficult to check the movement of people, checking transport of birds from across the border could not be easy.

The party had been demanding the sealing of the border with Bangladesh. The West Bengal government was discussing a Rs. 3,000 crore package with the Centre to compensate the poultry farmers for the loss of birds.

Earlier, releasing a report, “Agricultural scenario: agenda for farmers’ prosperity,” brought out by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, he urged the Centre to reduce the interest rate on crop loans to not more than 4 per cent, provide remunerative prices for agricultural products, increase access for farmers to institutional finance and ensure greater public investment in agriculture and a better public distribution system.

Rural areas were facing an alarming situation, with the per capita availability of food grains dipping to a very low level, almost similar to the situation before the Bengal famine.

He called for a universal PDS system. The minimum support price for paddy should be increased to at least Rs. 1,000 a quintal.

“On the one hand, we have a shining India with 36 billionaires, whose net worth is equal to one-fourth of the country’s GDP, and on the other is suffering India, which does not get adequate food. The gap is widening. It needs to be narrowed down.”