Opposition forces adjournment of RS over price issue

Opposition forces adjournment of RS over price issue

As soon as the House met for the day, BJP members were on their feet demanding discussion on rising food prices under Rule 167, which entails voting.

BJP Deputy Leader S S Ahluwalia said there should be a discussion followed by voting, a demand vehemently opposed by the ruling benches.

Other opposition parties particularly SP, BSP and Left supported the BJP.
Chairman Hamid Ansari requested members to resume their seats and took up the listed question.

But, as the din continued, Ansari said, "We cannot have Question Hour under these circumstances."

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Prithviraj Chavan said the Government was ready for a debate on the issue and a short duration discussion was already listed for today.

He said the Government was ready to discuss price rise even during Question Hour.
However, the opposition members were adamant on discussion under Rule 167.
As the din continued, Ansari said, "The Chair can't hear anything."
Less than four minutes into the uproar, he adjourned the House till noon.

Tearing into arguments that price rise was a result of drought, Jaitley said the deficit in foodgrain production this year at 18 million tons was much less than the shortfall of 40 million tons in 2002 but the WPI (wholesale price index) inflation at 8.56 per cent was much more than 3.4 per cent that year.

Instead of blaming futures market for rise in prices, he said, the Government should have brought a policy change to reflect change from surplus economy to deficit.
Futures trading in foodgrains, which were launched by the NDA government, were experiments of surplus economy which was no longer relevant, he said.
Only one per cent of commodity traded on futures market actually changes hands or is physically traded, he said.

On the Centre blaming state governments for the price rise and not doing enough to crackdown on hoarders, he said the data provided by the Centre at the recent Chief Minister's conference showed 83 per cent of raids and searches were conducted in non-UPA ruled states and 17 per cent in UPA-ruled states.

The lack of coordination was reflected when it was decided on February 15, that 10,000 tons of sugar would be exported to Europe despite a major sugar crisis in the country, he said adding the order was withdrawn only after media outcry.

He said 9 lakh tons of sugar was waiting for processing at various ports and wanted to know if it would be used to flood the market to bring down prices.

Referring to the statement in the mouthpiece of NCP, the party to which Agriculture, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Sharad Prawar belongs, that people will not die if they did not consume sugar because of its high prices, Jaitley said it displayed insensitiveness and amounted to ridiculing miseries of people. There is "lack of seriousness," he said.

Jaitley said 8.56 per cent WPI inflation is likely to reach double digit in next month-and-a-half, a phenomenon witnessed 15 years ago.

"The Government has to act. If the Government cannot act, governments much perish," he said. "Average citizen is almost driven to the wall."

He wanted the government to come out with a food price management policy rather than being dependent on natural and international factors for cooling of inflation.

Jaitley said the economic slowdown last year, when jobs and salaries were cut, saw lesser money in consumer pocket and prices coming down globally. But India saw rise in food prices.

"Has this government run out of ideas to deal with price rise? Yes, it has," he said.
On oil prices, he said the present tax structure ensures that every increase in global oil cost enriches the government while the consumer is forced to pay extra.

The gulf between Consumer Price Index and WPI has widened as was evident when WPI turned negative while CPI was in double digit, he said demanding a proper index reflective of ground realities on prices and services.

Rise in food prices has been discussed in every session of Parliament and the situation has worsened since the last debate in the winter session, he said.

K Keshava Rao (Congress) said the price rise issue cannot be insulated from the world-wide phenomenon of economic slowdown.

"There should not be any blame game over the issue. The situation should be seen from the point of view of global slowdown. Despite such pressures, our economy has come out relatively unscathed and the Prime Minister understands the situation. A holistic approach is needed to tackle the situation," he said.

When Rao said prices will come down in three months as the government had controlled the situation well last time too, opposition members, mainly those of the BJP, protested saying the government has been claiming to control price rise since the last two sessions of Parliament.

He said the public distribution system needs to be strengthened to ensure supply of essential food items to the common man.

"Food supply line has to be strengthened and for this PDS needs to be streamlined. State governments should take stringent action against hoarders and black marketeers. Greater coordination and collective action is needed to improve the situation," he said.
He also said agriculture scientists should go to the fields and coordinate with farmers on how to improve the yield.

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