NEW DELHI: If the Opposition-ruled states -- Maharashtra, Bihar and West Bengal -- carped about the Centre for not doing enough to rein in food inflation at a conference here on Friday, the Congress launched a scathing attack on the Modi Government from outside, accusing it of reneging on election promises and burdening the people with all-around hike in prices, including food, fuel and in train fare.
It also assailed Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan for putting the blame of run-away food prices on the gap between the supply and demand, as also on public expenditure, on MGNREGA, rising per capita income, population growth and changing dietary pattern.
Picking on rising per capita and change in dietary pattern points, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, claimed, the Modi Government was re-running what the UPA had been saying all along. It was “thanks to the levels of prosperity achieved during the 10 years of UPA rule that these have become factors,” he noted, not explaining though why people’s prosperity brought about electoral rout for his party.
The Congress is also quite upset with the latest indications emanating from the Modi Government that its much-touted flagship programme, MGNREGA or the 100-day job-guarantee could be water down on urging from BJP’s Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.
“Instead of tackling inflation, the government is making anti-democratic moves, trying to take away the rights guaranteed to the poor by Parliament,“ Surjewala said.Raje has written to Prime Minister Modi to dilute MGNRGA to a scheme rather than retain it as legislation, citing reasons such litigation etc. It has often been cited as a cause of rising labour cost and the anti-job guarantee economists have claimed that welfare programmes such are MGNRGA and Food Security brings about lethargy among the workforce.
Maintaining that the price of diesel, petrol and sugar and rail fare and freight were increased in the name of tough steps, the Congress spokesperson released an agenda paper of the Centre-State conference in which the Union Government explained the factors that contribute to food inflation.
Also hitting out at the government for deciding to implement the Krit Parekh Committee report and hike prices of kerosene and LPG even further, the Congress said that the present government “is being run to protect and enhance business interest at the cost of the people.’’ The Congress also attacked Union Minister Prakash Javadekar for his comment that inflation was not an electrical switch that can be turned on and off and Jaitley over his remarks that prices are rising because the normal supply is disrupted by hoarders anticipating higher prices due to late start of monsoon.
At the conference, even as Finance Minister Jaitley was briefing the media that hoarding was to blame for spurt in prices of onion and potato, other food items and asked the states to crack down on them, Maharashtra Food and Civil Supplies Minister and NCP leader Anil Deshmukh differed with him. “The price-rise on onions is not because of hoarding. It is because the Centre has failed, and is shifting its responsibility on the states,” Deshmukh said.
Similarly, his counterpart from Bihar said that it was not up to the states to rein in food prices and inflation. “It is the responsibility of the Centre to take steps to bring the situation under control. They need to go out and make laws. The states cannot make laws. There is a big difference between preaching and action,” argued Bihar Food Minister Shyam Razak, from the JD(U).
West Bengal Food and Civil Supplies Minister Jyotipriya Mallick from the Trinamool Congress too claimed that the Centre was not doing enough to tackle price rise. “The Centre needs to procure commodities such as onions and pass them on to the states,” he said.