Prices of food grains and other essential items have risen sharply in Kerala in recent weeks, imposing a heavy burden on the people. Vegetable prices have gone up by about 30 per cent in six months.
Kerala depends on other states for most of its requirements. Tamil Nadu is the main source of supply of vegetables. Trade sources attribute the spurt in vegetable prices to the damage to crops by rain in that state.
To help the people tide over the situation, the government decided last week to distribute vegetables through the state-owned Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation (Supplyco) in the urban centres.
In the five cities, Supplyco will make available kits with two and a half kilograms of vegetables for Rs25. This will involve a state subsidy of Rs7.50 per kit as the cost of procuring the vegetables is estimated at Rs32.50.
In the municipal towns, vegetables will be distributed through fair price shops at 15 to 30 per cent below the market rates. Mobile shops will also be commissioned to sell vegetables.
Will the plan work? Doubts prevail in view of the failure of the scheme the state government launched three months ago to set up a chain of far price hotels.
The scheme envisaged setting up of 140 hotels, 10 each in the 14 districts. They were to supply tea and snacks for Rs3 and meals for Rs12.
Only about 50 persons came forward to run hotels under the scheme. And only18 of them actually opened hotels. Five of the hotels have already closed down.
The scheme failed because the authorities did not do the necessary homework before taking it up. Supplyco could not provide grains to the hotels at low rates, as promised.
The ruling Left Democratic Front and the opposition United Democratic Front are trying to derive political mileage out of the price rise by laying the blame at the doors of different governments.
The UDF has announced plans to stage protests outside state government offices. The Kerala Congress (Mani), a constituent of the UDF, has already held some demonstrations on its own.
Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan said that if the opposition is sincere it should stage protests outside the offices of the central government, which was responsible for the price rise.
He also claimed that Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had commended the state government's efforts to hold the price line and held it out as a model for others. UDF spokesmen questioned the claim.
Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy put the ball back in the chief minister's court. He asked the state government to make good the LDF promise to commit Rs400 million to hold the price line with the help of 40,000 cooperatives.
Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac used the opportunity to press the LDF government's long-standing demand for restoration of universal coverage under the public distribution system. The UDF countered the demand by pointing out that the state had failed to lift 20,000 tonnes of rice allotted by the centre.
As a state with chronic food shortage, Kerala developed decades ago a public distribution system capable of serving the entire population. After the centre decided to limit subsidy to persons below the poverty line, those above the poverty line stopped using the PDS outlets as they can get good quality rice in the open market at comparable prices.
Many ration shops started diverting unsold grain stocks to rice mills. The state government turned a blind eye to this clandestine trade.
The centre, taking note of the decline in the requirements of the public distribution system, slashed the state's grains quota. The LDF routinely cites this as proof of discrimination against the state.
As the people reel under the impact of the price rise, the state government is promoting crass consumerism under the banner of the Grand Kerala Shopping Festival.
About 5,000 shops spread all over the state are participating in the 45-day shopping festival, which was formally inaugurated on December 1.
According to the government, the festival aims at linking trade and tourism. It claims that the festival will help find markets for the state's traditional products like spices, handlooms, cashew, coir, handmade mirror and bamboo items.
However, the government's partners in the venture are commercial houses with no interest in traditional products. They include a jewellery, a private sector bank, a super bazaar, a home appliance manufacturer, an automobile firm and a soap manufacturer. The bank and the jewellery are the only institutions from the state. -- Gulf Today, December 7, 2009.