Opposition demands Kerala Food Minister’s resignation over rice price

Thiruvananthapuram, March 1 (IANS) The opposition in the Kerala assembly on Wednesday demanded Food Minister P. Thilothaman’s resignation over an unprecedented spike in prices of branded rice in the state.

The Congress-led opposition went hammer and tongs after the Minister as the price of rice, the state’s staple food, touched Rs 50 per kg.

The parties demanded Thilothaman’s resignation from the Council of Ministers for his abject failure to control the inflation.

Seeking to move an adjournment motion, senior Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) legislator M. Ummer said that the main reason for the price rise was the failure of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s government to get an additional allocation of 2.25 lakh tonnes of rice, which the state got from the Centre till September 2016.

Ummer said that last year the price was 30 per cent lower as compared to now.

Reminding the Left Front government of its poll promise that it will maintain the prices of essential goods, Ummer said: “Your habit of blaming us for every ill, is not going to work.”

He said the state’s failure to get the added allocation from the Centre resulted in a huge shortage, which, in its turn, helped the open market traders to hike the price.

“Now you say you will bring additional rice from Bengal, but with (Chief Minister) Mamata Banerjee there, she is not going to allow it,” Ummer said.

He asked the Vijayan government to not waste any time and start looking for rice from elsewhere.

Over the years Kerala got 14 lakh tonnes of rice from the Centre and while Oomen Chandy held the Chief Minister’s office, he also got an additional allocation of 2.25 lakh tonnes.

The price of branded rice usually stood in the range of Rs 28 to Rs 35 during the Chandy rule.

Chief Minister Vijayan accepted that he failed to get the additional allocation after September following the Centre’s firm decision to go ahead with the National Food Security Act implementation.

Added to that came a strike by a section of Food Corporation of India (FCI) who demanded a salary hike, Vijayan said.

He said his government had on several occasions appraised the Centre of the rice shortage in the state. “I met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others, insisting that we should be allowed the additional allocation.”

Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, reminding the treasury benches of their nine notices for adjournment motion between 2011-16 on price rise, said: “With the price of rice and other essential items now skyrocketing in the state, we all expected that there will be a discussion allowed today (Wednesday).”

Chennithala even said that had Food Minister Thilothaman shared a cordial relation with his former counterpart C. Divakaran, he could have taken some advice on arresting the price hike.

The Congress leader said: “Thilothaman’s incompetence was clear when he was not even asked to accompany the Chief Minister in February to brief Modi. It’s best that he steps down, as he has failed miserably.”

Countering the attack against him, Thilothaman said that the reason for the present price rise was the drought prevailing in Andhra Pradesh, from where Kerala buys rice.

Andhra Pradesh not only supplies rice to Kerala ,besides to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, but also exports to Africa, and this has seriously affected its stocks.

“We have by now opened three rice sales outlets in the state and plan to open one major outlet each in all the 14 districts,” the Minister told the assembly after the opposition members walked out of the house.

–IANS

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