Indicating a scam in the export and import of onions and some other essential items, CPI(M) on Thursday said the prices of these commodities were rising even when there was more than enough supply in the market.
"The same traders that benefited from export incentives (on sugar earlier) are now benefiting from duty-free imports. Is this a reflection of the bizarre ways of this government or is there a scam waiting to unfold," senior party leader Sitaram Yechury asked.
French Queen Marie Antoinette "who infamously screamed during the French Revolution that if people cannot get bread, why don't they eat cakes, would indeed have been a happy person now in India," he said in an editorial in the forthcoming issue of CPI(M) organ 'People's Democracy'.
Maintaining that the UPA government has "miserably failed" to discharge its collective responsibility to check prices, Yechury said while there were "much expectations" that prices would come down after the Cabinet reviewed the price situation, there was 'passing the buck' within the UPA coalition partners.
"The high-profile Congress general secretary (Rahul Gandhi) hinted that compulsions of a coalition government prevented the undertaking of effective measures to contain this price rise. The spokesman of the Nationalist Congress Party, whose chief is the minister for agriculture, shot back with references to successful coalition governments in Italy!"
Observing that it would be wrong to conclude that supply-demand mismatch was the prime cause for price rise, he said in Delhi, when the supply of onions nearly doubled from 730 tonnes to 1144 tonnes on December 20-21, the wholesale price fell from Rs 55 to Rs 50 per kg, but the retail price rose from Rs 75 to Rs 80.
"Clearly, there is more to this price rise than mere supply-demand mismatch", Yechury said, adding that in the last nine months of 2010, the wholesale price index for vegetables rose 67%. "The retail prices have soared much higher, making chicken cheaper than onions!"
Talking of sugar in early 2010, he said when its prices started to soar, exports were banned and imports encouraged by eliminating all import duties. Yet, the prices did not begin to climb down.
Noting that the government refused to ban speculative trading despite continued demand by Left parties, the CPI(M) leader said speculation was pushing up the prices of all essential commodities particularly food prices.
"Unless such speculative trading is banned, the excess foodgrain stocks rotting in central government godowns are released to the states for sale through public distribution system and the budgetary hikes in the prices of petroleum products are rolled back, no relief for the aam admi is possible," Yechury said.