Monday, August 4, 2008

Parties obfuscate facts as they try to score points

Facts are at a discount as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress, which head the ruling Left Democratic Front and the opposition United Democratic Front respectively, go all out to score points with an eye to winning the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The CPI (M) leaves no stone unturned as it seeks to live down the reputation of having supported the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, led by the Congress, for more than four years.

Last week the two parties were involved in a verbal war over food supplies. Allegations and counter-allegations flew thick and fast after the Centre cut allocation of rice to families above the poverty line (APL) in the State.

According to Food Minister C Divakaran, Kerala needs 175,000 metric tonnes (MT) of grains a month to give 35 kg to each of five million APL families. However, during the past four months, the Centre had provided only 17,000 MT. Now it has stopped all supplies until December.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan said the Centre’s decision amounted to pushing the people of the State into starvation. CPI-M State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and CPI State secretary Veliyam Bhargavan characterised the Centre’s action as reprisal for the Left parties’ withdrawal of support to the UPA government.

Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy and Pradesh Congress President Ramesh Chennithala rose to the Centre’s defence. They said the Centre had suspended supplies as the State government had violated the terms of an agreement under which it was required to contribute 168,000 MT of grains to the Central pool.

Divakaran, who belongs to the CPI, said the Chief Minister and other ministers would stage a dharna (sit-in) in New Delhi if the Centre did not reverse the decision.

Achuthanandan did not go that far. He said he would lead a delegation to represent the State’s case before the Prime Minister. An agitation would be mounted in New Delhi if the Centre did not concede the State’s demand, he added.

Onam, the biggest festival on the Keralite’s calendar, falls next month. For several weeks, prices of food and other essential commodities have been rising. The spectre of food scarcity at this time is naturally a source of great worry.

At the root of the current controversy is a well-known paradox. The State has a public distribution system (PDS), which covers the entire population, but not everybody buys grains from the PDS outlets.

The PDS outlets supply grains at subsidised rates to those below the poverty line (BPL). While the BPL families draw their requirements from these outlets, the APL families generally buy from the open market.

The PDS outlets divert the unsold APL quota to rice mills and other commercial interests. This was what prompted the Centre to cut the quota.

Responding to the State government’s criticism of its action, the Centre clarified that there was no cause for anxiety as the State had sufficient grain stocks to manage until the next crop arrives.

The Hindu quoted an official of the State Civil Supplies Corporation Limited (Supplyco) as saying it had procured 170,000 MT of paddy from this year’s crop and converted 110,600 MT (68%) into rice. Out of this, 31,211 MT was transferred to the Central pool for distribution to APL families till June 20.

Thereafter, the official told the newspaper on condition of anonymity, the State government informed the Centre that it would not be making any further contributions to the Central pool as it proposed to distribute rice directly to the APL families.

The Supplyco official’s statement, which has not been refuted by the State government, suggests that the allegations of vindictiveness levelled against the Centre by the leaders of the CPI-M and the CPI are patently false. But the two parties have already unleashed a wave of protests by their youth wings.

In any case, the Centre has announced a special allocation of 10,000 MT of rice and 20,000 MT of wheat to the State for the Onam season.

The Rs. 18.4 billion package to boost paddy cultivation in Kuttanad in Alappuzha district was also caught in a needless controversy. When the Centre approved the package on July 24, it was stated that the State would be required to pay only Rs. 46.5 million towards its cost. A few days later, the Chief Minister alleged the Centre had gone back on the commitment. After Union Minister Vayalar Ravi refuted the charge, he conceded that he had erred.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 4,2008.

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