Left, opposition flay government over soaring prices


New Delhi : The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was Tuesday criticised sharply by the opposition and Left parties for what they termed as its gross inability in taming prices that have pushed India’s annual inflation rate to a 41-month high.

Support TwoCircles

The day began with members of the Left parties and the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) staging a protest march to parliament, demanding more measures to curb prices and stern action against hoarders of essential commodities.

They demanded an immediate ban on forward trading in commodities, re-evaluation and strengthening of the public distribution system and the lowering of taxes on petroleum so that prices of transport and cooking fuels can be brought down.

Soon after, the stage shifted to inside parliament where members of the Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) disrupted proceedings in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, forcing the respective chairs to adjourn the houses.

“Those who are raising slogans will be dealt with properly. I am not going to permit any such thing,” Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said. But he was forced to adjourn the house for an hour after opposition members refused to budge.

The protests had started in the morning immediately after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh introduced some of his new ministers, including M.S. Gill, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, Raghunath Jha, V. Narayansamy, Satish Bagrodia and Rameshwar Oraon.

An assurance from Finance Minister P. Chidambaram of more steps to rein in the price rise – that has pushed the annual rate of inflation to 7.41 percent for the week ended March 29 – was of no avail.

“I do not know when the Cabinet Committee on Prices will meet but when it meets, I expect some measures,” Chidambaram told reporters, referring to a meeting that was to have been presided over by Manmohan Singh Tuesday.

Even Commerce Minister Kamal Nath made an appeal to state governments to crack down on hoarders, saying they were responsible for creating artificial shortage of commodities and creating inflationary expectations.

“The state governments must ensure that there is no food hoarding, there is no profiteering,” he told reporters after a meeting with a trade delegation from Egypt here.

The situation was no different in the upper house, where Left members joined the opposition in raising slogans against the government. Chairman Hamid Ansari was also forced to adjourn the house.

“Price rise is the only question today,” senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said, making it clear that the opposition was not willing to discuss any other issue but prices.

When the two houses resumed, there was not much change in the situation. Only the Rajya Sabha took up some statutory business for some 15 minutes. The respective presiding officers were forced to adjourn the two houses for the day.

In fact the mood for what was to come was set a day earlier when Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechuri said his party intended to launch a nation-wide protest against price rise.

“Price rise is the most crucial issue. It will be like a large albatross sitting on the UPA government’s neck in the coming election. As a supporting party, we are telling them they will be in trouble,” Yechury warned.

India’s inflation has also become a global issue with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) saying world financial leaders will closely watch how India balances its growth with potential risks to price stability.

“India has become more and more a big player in the world economy,” said IMF’s Managing Director Strauss-Kahn at a weekend press conference in Washington on the margins of the organisation’s spring meetings.

The IMF had earlier in the week forecast India’s inflation to moderate to 5.2 percent in the current calendar year and four percent in 2009, as against 6.4 percent in 2007.

In fact, Manmohan Singh, who has himself been monitoring and issuing directives to tame inflation, has said the sharp rise in food prices was making inflation management a tough task that could hurt the country’s macroeconomic stability.

“Sharply rising food prices can slow down poverty alleviation, impede economic growth and retard employment generation,” he said last week. “A steep rise in food prices will make inflation control more difficult.”

Meetings chaired by him have already resulted in some actions – including a ban on export of edible oils and non-basmati rice, while similar steps are also under consideration for steel and other commodities.

In this backdrop, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which is scheduled to present its monetary policy April 29 for the fiscal, has also promised steps to rein in prices – since inflation is above the threshold level of five percent.