Indian Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan says rice at Rs 2 per kg is unimaginable elsewhere… Interview by Nirendra Dev
The “last two years have been extremely satisfactory” as certain basic issues of people’s livelihood could be addressed, Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan has said, but lamented that while the Centre bears the cost of providing subsidised rice at Rs 2 kg, it is the states which claim the credit for this.
“While we give subsidies from the Centre, the states run away with the credit and the media blames the (Narendra) Modi government. I have said this in Parliament also. I would like to tell that claims made by certain states that they are providing rice and paddy free of cost to the people is not true. It’s the Centre which is giving this,” Paswan asserted in an interview to IANS.
“Nowhere in the planet can you imagine the quantum of government intervention to ensure PDS (public distribution system) supply for the poor and the needy. Rice at Rs 2 per kg is unimaginable elsewhere,” Paswan said.
“If the price of rice is Rs 30 per kg, then the Centre is giving a subsidy of Rs 28 and the consumers pay just Rs 2,” the minister stressed.
“The contribution from the Uttar Pradesh government is zero. In Bihar also it’s zero. If the price of wheat is Rs 20 per kg, we are feeding the entire country at the rate of Rs 2. Our work in the last two years has been revolutionary,” Paswan maintained.
Little wonder then, Paswan said, running the Food Ministry was a “thankless job” wherein no credit is given for bringing down the prices.
“It is a thankless job. Compared to last year, prices of various items like wheat and rice have decreased. Compared to May 2016, prices of pulses like Mung and Urad have now decreased as well. But no one will give credit for the good work and proper planning,” Paswan said.
“Onion prices fall due to good harvest but the farmers suffer because of poor marketing which fetches them just Rs 3 per kg, and then we are accused of neglecting the farmers’ welfare,” Paswan said.
In this context Paswan said the central government is “going out of the way in more ways than one” to help the farmers by giving enhanced Minimum Support Price (MSP).
The distress of sugarcane farmers has been a matter of concern for the government. These farmers do not get their due from the sugar mills even though the price of sugar has gone up manifold in the last few months.
Referring to the plight of sugarcane farmers and the arrears due to them, Paswan said: “The central government’s role was to fix the Fair Remunerative Price (FRP). Essentially the matter is between the state governments and mill owners. But appreciating the gravity of the situation farmers are in, we intervened and nearly 87 per cent of the dues amounting to Rs 6,225 crore has been released.”
Price rise has been a major issue which is used by the political opponents to target the Modi government. The minister, however, stressed that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is working to keep a check on the price rise of essential commodities. Short- and long-term strategies are being planned in this regard, Paswan said.
He said a core group of ministers — comprising Arun Jaitley (Finance), Nirmala Sitharaman (Commerce), Radha Mohan Singh (Agriculture) and he himself — is regularly monitoring the situation and they have been largely successful in controlling prices.
Regarding the Public Distribution System, Paswan said the problem of pilferage is being looked into.
“For the first time since Independence the issue of leakage in Public Distribution System is being addressed. More steps have been planned,” the minister said, adding that steps like linking the Aadhaar cards to the ration card beneficiaries has resulted in saving of a whopping Rs 10,000 crore.
“We tracked about 16.2 million bogus ration cards. Decisions like direct benefit transfer to the people in need has helped overall improvement in the system. There are also 117,000 points of sales introduced with biometric facilities wherein beneficiaries get either foodgrains or cash according to their entitlement. These are some of the revolutionary steps undertaken by the NDA government,” Paswan said.