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Price Rise-PM takes on the BJP
NEW DELHI, JAN 21 (AGENCIES/ IANS):
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Published on 22 Jan. 2010 12:37 AM IST
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The Prime Minister has gone on the offensive over food prices. On Wednesday, the BJP met the Prime Minister to express its concerns about spiralling prices. The Prime Minister told his cabinet on Thursday that in response, he presented the BJP’s delegation with facts about prices during the BJP-led NDA’s regime. The Cabinet Committee on Prices on Thursday reviewed the prices of essential commodities. The major areas of concern identified are prices of pulses, sugar, potatoes and onions. The Cabinet, while discussing food prices, has expressed its concern over hoarding by retailers in big cities like Mumbai and Delhi. Food inflation has eased to 16.81 per cent for the week that ended January 9 from 17.28 per cent in the previous week. On Wednesday, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that high inflation was a matter of concern, and steps were being taken to control it. Price rise meet postponed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday postponed to Feb 6 the meeting with state chief ministers on price rise, which was scheduled Jan 27, an official said. “Because of the inclement weather and foggy conditions in Delhi we decided to reschedule the meeting to Feb 6,” said an official in the Prime Minister’s Office. Opposition parties have cornered the government over the sky-rocketing prices of essential commodities that have impacted people in the country. The postponement of the prime minister’s meeting also comes in the backdrop of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati Wednesday demanding the removal of union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. Mayawati pointedly blamed Pawar for the unprecedented rise in prices of food and other essential commodities. Pawar has been maintaining that the states had a great role in curbing prices while the Opposition parties allege that the primary responsibility of containing the prices was with the Centre which had the money, means and power to import the food grains and sugar to shore up supplies to the poor and downtrodden through the Public Distribution System. Price of milk to increase Union food and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, who’s already facing the heat for the Centre’s failure to rein in prices of essential commodities, including food items, on Wednesday gave the BJP-led Opposition another handle to beat him with when he suggested that the prices of milk and related products were set to rise because of the demand-supply mismatch. Pawar’s remarks put the Manmohan Singh government on the defensive and, confronted with popular outrage and another round of attack from BJP and even Congress, Pawar effected an about-turn later in the day, denying that he dropped any hints about a possible hike in milk prices, Economic Times reported. However, the damage had already been done, exposing him, and the UPA government, to charges of doing nothing to rein prices. On the contrary, there were accusations that the food minister was merely triggering another round of speculative practices. “There is a gap of 18 lakh tonnes between demand and the current milk supply,’’ he said while addressing a national conference of state ministers of animal husbandry and dairy here on Wednesday. And, as with sugar prices, Pawar once again sought to put the blame for this on state governments for not increasing milk production. “I want more production of milk. The ministry is encouraging states to take advantage of central schemes,’’ he said. The Union food and agriculture minister’s warning of a possible increase in milk prices came hours after a high-profile BJP delegation, led by its parliamentary party chairman L K Advani, had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, accusing his government of failing to demonstrate ``any determination’’ to deal with the situation. The NCP leader’s flip-flop on milk prices did little to help the government’s, and his own, case. It gave Congress another opportunity to run him down. It put the onus of finding a solution to the problem of high milk prices on him. In response to questions about a possible spurt in milk prices in north India, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said Congress had made it clear those responsible for “presenting” the problem would also have to come up a “solution”. The reference to Pawar without actually naming him is significant as this is the first time that Congress has officially pointed in his direction with regard to price rise. “While there may be a number of problems (leading to price rise) due to physical and other constraints, it is equally important that those who identify the problem should work towards finding a solution,” Singhvi said on being asked about Pawar’s statement on milk prices. Congress was also relatively direct in asking the Centre to produce ”results” in bringing down prices. “Congress considers it (price rise) a serious issue. We do not agree that the government is not paying heed to the Congress’ demands on curbing prices....However, most important are results,” Singhvi said. The BJP delegation, which met the prime minister on Wednesday morning, charged his government with adopting a ``do nothing’’ approach in the hope that the crisis would die down on its own. ``The essential coordination required among various departments of the government appears to be lacking. This is not the time for apportioning the blame among various ministries. This is a time for action since the inflationary trends have caused enormous misery to the common man,’’ the memorandum submitted by the party during the meeting said. “The prime minister assured us of all possible measures to control prices and also to examine the suggestions given by us,’’ Advani said after the meeting. ``Not merely the weaker sections and BPL families, but the entire middle class is affected by inflation, particularly of food articles,’’ he added. BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who was also part of the team, asserted that it was not correct on the part of the Centre to accuse the state governments for exorbitant increase in prices.

 
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