Pulses, edible oils may be subsidised to reduce prices: Food Minister

By Amit Agnihotri, IANS,

New Delhi : Concerned that lower production of pulses and oilseeds due to a deficient monsoon could hike their prices, the government is planning to sell these two consumer items through the public distribution system (PDS) that caters to a third of India’s 1.12 billion population to provide relief to this vulnerable section of society, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister K.V. Thomas said.

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“Pulses and oil seeds are a concern…we are planning how to provide these items through the PDS,” Thomas told IANS in an interview.

According to Thomas, the government could start a scheme to issue pulses through the PDS at a subsidy of Rs.20 per kg for both the below poverty line (BPL) and the above poverty line APL (APL) persons and may introduce a similar plan for edible oils.

“We want to provide these items at reasonable rates to the consumers,” Thomas said.

India produces around 17 million tonnes of pulses but also imports 4 to 5 million tonnes as the demand ranges between 21 and 22 million tonnes annually.

But the government is also concerned that there are loopholes in the PDS’ functioning and has asked the states to strengthen the system so its efforts to buffer the common man against price rise are not diluted. “We have asked the states to strengthen the PDS…unless this is done, any move to protect the consumers against price rise will not help,” Thomas maintained.

He said the government is also concerned over the rising prices of vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes and onions. “We are reviewing the price situation constantly,” Thomas said.

Speaking about the overall foodgrain production scenario, Thomas said a 23 percent deficiency in the southwest monsoon has affected sowing of the summer (Kharif) crop in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

Though Punjab and Haryana too have not received enough rains, the grain bowls of the country would not suffer much as they are better irrigated, Thomas said.

He, however, said there would be no impact of rain deficiency on the overall foodgrain production.

In this, he is at variance with Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who has said the record 257 million tonnes of foodgrain production in 2011-12, won’t be possible this summer season due to deficient rains.

Food and civil supplies once formed part of Pawar’s portfolio till they were hived off after he complained he was overworked.

Thomas also said the government has already issued additional an 5 million tonnes of foodgrain under the PDS for BPL families and 1 million tonnes for APL families to cushion them against high prices.

The PDS, which caters to 18 crore families, consumes 55 million tonnes of wheat and rice annually. In addition, sugar and kerosene is also distributed through the PDS.

(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at [email protected])