Gargi Parsai

NEW DELHI: To contain rising prices, the Centre on Thursday decided to allocate, on an ad hoc basis, an additional 10 kg of wheat or rice for every eligible family under the Targeted Public Distribution System during January and February. It will be sold at the minimum support price of Rs 10.80 for wheat and Rs 15.37 for rice a kg.

“It [the additional allocation] will be available to an accepted number of cardholders under the Antyodaya Anna Yojna, the Below Poverty Line and Above Poverty Line categories,” government sources said after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Prices.

The CCP, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, approved the Food Ministry’s proposal to make an additional, ad hoc release of 36.07 lakh tonnes of wheat and rice in January and February for sale to all categories of TPDS beneficiaries. “The total additional allocation for the country will be 10.64 lakh tonnes of rice and 25.43 lakh tonnes of wheat. State governments will be allowed to lift this quantity by March,” the sources said.

Reacting sharply to the decision, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and Rajya Sabha member Brinda Karat said the price at which these foodgrains were being made available was nothing but a “fraud on the people.”

In the name of additional allocations, “the government has hiked the price of rationed foodgrains. The government has been wanting to raise the central issue price of foodgrains. It has done so now, without saying so.”

It was nothing but restoration of the allocations that were cut after it was decided to make them on the basis of the offtake in 2006-07. “There is no question of [the government] making additional allocations. They need to restore what they had cut.”

In their response, Food Ministry sources said the economic cost to the government was Rs. 15.26 a kg of wheat and Rs. 21.97 a kg of rice. The issue price had not been revised since 2000. Even on this MSP-based price, the government was picking up an estimated subsidy of Rs. 900 crore, while the total food subsidy bill stood at an estimated Rs. 60,000 crore for this year.

CMs’ meet postponed

Meanwhile, the Centre has postponed to early next month a meeting of Chief Ministers, scheduled here for January 27 to discuss food inflation. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told journalists that some Chief Ministers expressed their inability to come to the capital immediately after Republic Day celebrations.

“Media creation”

As for an increase in milk prices, Mr. Pawar said there was no such proposal before the Centre. “This is a media creation. What I had said was that there was need to increase milk production and productivity.”