Blame game

Blame game

The setting up of  a high-powered committee of the states and the Centre to monitor and tackle rising food prices will achieve little if the proceedings at the chief ministers’ meeting in Delhi are an indication. It became an occasion for mutual recrimination with some states blaming the Centre for inaction and the Centre shifting some of the blame to the states for their lapses. The responsibility is to be shared by both sides and attempts to score political brownie points will not help either side, and the people are the sufferers. What is needed is coordinated action by both the Centre and the states and some of the proposals that came up at the meeting call for such action. The committee has the brief to take steps to arrest the price rise, improve the public distribution system (PDS) and increase food production. Some of these aims are long-term and immediate results, which are needed, will call for urgent action.

Hoarding of food articles and profiteering have contributed to the price rise in a major way but there has been little action to curb these malpractices. Expansion of the PDS is a slow process, but attempts to check diversion of PDS have been tardy. Several suggestions have been made in the past to reform PDS, including giving food coupons to prevent pilferage, but why haven’t they been implemented? What all these show are human and systemic failures which have aggravated the situation. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, whose indiscrete statements have only helped the hoarders, has rightly come under fire and the prime minister should issue him a stern warning to act responsibly.

It’s clear that food price inflation has to addressed differently from the general inflation. Therefore monetary measures like the recent steps taken by the RBI will only have a limited impact on it. The main problem relates adequate supplies, which need to be ensured through imports, effective action to dehoard stocks and through the easing of bottlenecks in the movement of food articles. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that the worst on the price front is over, with good crop prospects in the coming weeks. The government should enter the market aggressively offering  remunerative prices to farmers and thus enhancing its buffer stock. There is little doubt that the Centre and the states will have to work hand in hand if scalded consumers are to get some relief.

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