Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) opposition walked out of the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, accusing the State government of failing to shield households from the sharp rise in food prices.
Seeking the Assembly’s leave for an adjournment debate on the issue during the Zero Hour, IUML legislator T.V. Ibrahim said Kerala’s cost of living crisis had 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 blamed the government’s “flawed procurement policy and questionable” market intervention strategy. He reeled off the market price of vegetables and branded rice to prove the point.
Food and Civil Supplies Minister G.R. Anil said the fluctuating price of drumsticks 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 (PDS).
The cost of ration rice for cardholders ranges from free to a maximum of ₹10 for a kg. The government spend ₹1,600 crore to compensate the farmers and subsidise ration rice.
Kerala’s Public Distribution System (PDS) covered 93 lakh cardholders, an estimated 90% 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.
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).
Leader of Opposition V.D. Satheesan said Kerala’s PDS was not the Minister’s legacy. The statutory rationing system 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.
Speaker A.N. Shamsheer rejected the UDF motion.