Pay the price
Sir— A while ago, the Union minister for food and agriculture, Sharad Pawar, promised that sugar prices would fall in four to eight days (“Rush to check sugar price,” Jan 14). Just before this time period was up, he qualified that wholesale prices of sugar had fallen but retail prices would take around 15 days to do so. It seems Pawar is just trying to buy time and wriggle out of the promise he had made.
If sugar prices can be brought down in a week or a fortnight, why did Pawar wait for prices to rise this much before taking appropriate measures? There must be some political reasons behind his inaction.The Centre could have removed import duties on raw sugar and implemented the zero duty on refined sugar imports much earlier. Stocks of raw sugar imported by mills in Uttar Pradesh have been piling up in ports in Gujarat owing to the UP government’s ban on raw sugar imports. This situation did not develop overnight. The Central government has been tardy in relaxing the ban and allowing stocks to be diverted to processing mills.
Pawar and the ministry of agriculture have shown a lack of application and resolve in tackling the rise in prices of sugar and various other foodgrains.It is up to the agriculture ministry to take a lead in monitoring local and international food prices with reference to our harvest output, to take decisions to import stocks and, if required, ban exports so that there is no unnecessary artificial scarcity in the local market.
Mayavati may have been right in stipulating that Pawar should resign before she attends the prime minister’s conference on rising food prices, slated for February 6. As a senior minister, Pawar should set an example of accountability by resigning.
In fact, the United Progressive Alliance government, given its complete failure in tackling food prices, should seek a fresh mandate from the people. Once it became clear that there was scarcity of wheat and pulses, it should have intervened by releasing foodgrains from the Food Corporation of India godowns instead of letting prices soar. It is no use blaming state governments, especially since the Centre failed to make them increase supplies. Is it not a failure on the part of the Congress, and in consequence, of the UPA government, that escalating food prices have not been checked?
The situation also demonstrates that our ministers live in ivory towers, cut off from common people. The finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, for instance, has taken an oblique approach to the problem. He said he would address the issue by tackling the rising inflation. A few months back, however, it became evident that our inflation indices do not necessarily reflect food prices. When the prices of vegetables and pulses were surging, the inflation indices were showing negative inflation or minimal increase. It would appear that the current government talks in many voices, but never for the benefit of the common man.
S. Kamat, Bardez, Goa
Sir— I completely agree with Mayavati’s demand for Sharad Pawar’s resignation as agriculture minister (“Price fear reaches milk,” Jan 22). He has been a total failure in his capacity, given that prices of food items have skyrocketed. A minister who truly works for his country does not look the other way as the poor struggle with the increase in prices of all essential commodities.
Pawar is probably one of the worst agriculture ministers India has seen since Independence. If the Congress wants to stay in power, the party high command should immediately look into the rise in prices.
Sanjay Agarwal, Calcutta
Sir— The recent rise in prices has made sugar too bitter to swallow. There seems to be much more to the present sugar price rise than simple market forces. In the past, governments have fallen over rises in onion prices. But in this case, those in power appear indifferent to the situation, as if to help the sugar lobby. In any democracy, the Opposition has to ensure that the government remains on the correct path. We have been let down badly by our chosen ones.
Raghubir Singh, Pune
Sir— Sharad Pawar recently expressed his inability to predict a date by which the exorbitant prices of sugar would come down. Quite bluntly, he told people that he was not equipped to answer this question as he was not an astrologer. Does it mean that the community of soothsayers would be able to forecast the shape of things to come on the price front? Is not Pawar’s statement an encouragement to return to superstitious beliefs?
Arun Malankar, Mumbai