Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition on Wednesday, December 7, 2022, walked out of the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, accusing the State government of failing to shield households from the sharp run-up in food prices.
Seeking an adjournment debate on the subject, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) legislator T. V. Ibrahim said Kerala’s cost of living crisis has worsened with vegetable, edible oil and grain prices on a seemingly unstoppable upward spiral.
He said households, already saddled by extortionate cooking gas and fuel prices, were struggling to cope.
Mr. Ibrahim reeled off “skyrocketing” retail prices of vegetables and various rice brands to highlight the “crisis”.
He blamed the government’s flawed rice and vegetable procurement policy and questionable market intervention strategy.
Food and Civil Supplies Minister G. R. Anil said the Opposition’s adjournment motion had no merit. He accused Mr. Ibrahim of living in a make-believe world.
“The fluctuating price of drumstick in the Kondotti market in Mr. Ibrahim’s constituency is no yardstick of inflation.”, he said.
Last fiscal, the government procured 7.64 lakh metric tonnes of rice from paddy farmers and channelled it into the public distribution system.
The cost of ration rice for cardholders ranges from free to a maximum of Rs 10 for a kg. The government spend Rs 1,600 crores to compensate the farmers and subsidise ration rice.
Kerala’s storied Public Distribution System (PDS) covered 93 lakh cardholders, an estimated 90 per cent of households in the State, irrespective of their income status.
Last fiscal, the government added 2.86 lakh new ration card holders to the PDS. Kerala’s rationing system covered almost the entire populace and was expanding under the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government.
People could purchase rice, edible oil, pulses, sugar, wheat and kerosene at highly affordable prices. Horticorp effectively intervened in the market to ensure the round-the-year availability of vegetables at inexpensive rates.
Mr. Anil said the opposition should join the treasury benches in condemning the Centre’s discontinuation of the tide-over allocation of grains to Kerala.
The Centre’s denial has disadvantaged nearly 50 lakh cardholders from the non-priority sections not covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). Instead, the UDF has sought to politicise livelihood issues by misleading the public.
Leader of Opposition, V. D. Satheesan, said Kerala’s PDS was not the Minister’s legacy. The statutory rationing system has existed since 1964.
Mr. Satheesan said the government’s failure to restrict hoarding and its faulty paddy and vegetable procurement policy were the main drivers behind the price rise.
He said rice farmers in Palakkad and Kuttanad saw the rains wash away their harvest because the government failed to pressurise the mill lobby to procure the grain in time.
The mill owners squeezed profits by buying the “soaked” harvest belatedly and at less than market rates.
“It’s a shame on the government. People are struggling. Inflation has crept into household grocery bills. Paddy farmers are facing debt. The government remained apathetic to their deprivation and contemptuous of the opposition”, he said.
Speaker A. N. Shamsheer rejected the UDF motion.