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Oppn flays govt over price rise
Published on 26 Feb. 2010 12:52 AM IST
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Parliament on Thursday finally got down to discussing the crushing rise in prices of essential commodities after the opposition paralysed both houses for two days over the manner in which the issue would be discussed. The debate expectedly went along party lines with the opposition hurling all manner of accusations at the government for its failure to control the ballooning prices and at least one speaker from the treasury bench saying that the larger picture was being missed: That it was thanks to the government that India had largely been spared the impact of the global economic slowdown. Ironically, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had led the protests that led to both the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha being adjourned without transacting any business, fell in line with what the government had agreed to in the first place: That the issue would be taken up as a short duration discussion. Initiating the discussion in the Lok Sabha, new Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj launched a scathing attack on the government for its failure to curb food inflation but Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar seemed unperturbed, smiling throughout the speech. “Let him (Pawar) smile. Don’t look at his smile. Just look at the tears of the poor who are suffering due to the government’s wrong policies. Let him smile,” an angry Sushma Swaraj said. Swaraj, in her first speech, lashed out at the government for what she termed “mahangai ka mahaghotala” (huge scam of inflation), saying the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had “failed totally” to control spiralling prices. But it was not all fire and brimstone in the Lok Sabha with the house congratulated Sachin Tendulkar for becoming the first cricketer in the one-day format to score a double century. “This is a unique achievement which is a matter of national pride and a source of inspiration for budding cricketers of this country,” Speaker Meira Kumar said. Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley echoed Swaraj while opening the discussion in the Rajya Sabha, saying the government had “run out of ideas” on controlling prices and was “only looking for alibis” to cover up for its failures. “Could the government not anticipate the supply-side shortfall,” he wondered, adding: “Today, we are facing a situation where the government’s inability to control inflation has become an indirect tax on the consumer.” “The single largest failure of the government is the mismanagement of food prices. The government must act, otherwise it must perish because the average citizen is being driven to the wall,” Jaitley maintained. He also disagreed with the government’s contention that prices of essential commodities had gone up due to drought-induced production shortfall. “We have a wholesale price index and a consumer price index and there is a glaring mismatch between the two. We need a single price index to give a true picture of where inflation truly stands,” he contended. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is leader of the house in the Rajya Sabha, was present throughout Jaitley’s 40-minute speech. He left soon after it concluded. Countered K. Keshava Rao of the Congress: “Prices are going up and it is unfortunate. But members must appreciate that it is because of the government’s efforts that we have been largely spared the impact of the global financial crisis. Not a single bank has closed down.” Among others who spoke during the debate were Brinda Karat (Communist Party of India-Marxist) and K. Malaisamy (AIADMK) in the Rajya Sabha and Sharad Yadav (Janata Dal-United) in the Lok Sabha. Meanwhile, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar Thursday said she was very happy that political parties had reached a consensus on holding a discussion on rising prices. At a meeting of all political parties convened by the speaker Wednesday, it was agreed that the discussion would be held under rule 193, under which voting is not required and which the government is insisting on. The opposition’s demand was that there should be an adjournment motion on price rise. “I am very happy that all parties reached a consensus on the issue of price rise. It is a very important matter. The people are heavily hit by soaring prices of essential commodities,” she told reporters here. Meira Kumar had Wednesday rejected the demand of an adjournment motion on price rise. The Congress had said the government was ready to discuss all issues and requested the opposition to obey the speaker’s ruling that the discussion would be held under Rule 193. Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj will initiate the discussion in the Lok Sabha after question house Thursday. Proceedings in both houses of parliament have been stalled for the last two days over the contentious issue.

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