A day before the Cabinet Committee on Prices is scheduled to meet on the discomforting issue of inflation, the CPM on Sunday set a deadline for the UPA government to initiate steps to bring down prices of essential commodities.
It said the party would launch a nationwide agitation if the government failed to take steps by April 15. The Left and other opposition parties have been pressuring the government on rising prices, which they say are hitting consumers hard.
The government said on Friday that the inflation rate has touched a 13-month high of 6.7 per cent. A surge in global food and commodity costs has driven prices up in India. Rising prices do not bode well for the ruling coalition, which is in the last leg of its tenure and could possibly face elections any time later this year or early next year. Government officials have said that a cabinet committee would meet to discuss rising prices on Monday.
“After April 15, we will launch a nationwide agitation on price rise in consultation with other parties which would want to join us on the issue,” CPM Politburo member Sitaram Yechury told reporters on the sidelines of the party’s 19th congress.
Yechury said the government should immediately take steps like banning futures trading in 25 agricultural items and universalise the public distribution system (PDS).
“We also demand that the government restore the cuts in food grain allocations to states under the PDS, including 15 essential items and take stringent action against hoarders,” he added.
The party, in its resolution passed at its ongoing congress, demanded a cut in customs and excise duties on oil and reduction in the retail prices of petrol and diesel. “Each time international oil prices rise, the government makes a profit,” he said.
About half of what consumers pay for petrol and diesel is actually duties and taxes that go to the exchequer. The CPM has demanded that the government should restructure the duties on these fuels to reduce prices. “These demands will be conveyed to the government and we hope it will take these decisions,” he said.
Yechury said the Left would continue to support the UPA government “but oppose it on anti-people policies. “The CPM politburo member clarified that the Left considers the Congress better than the BJP, which remains its enemy number one.
“We are not subscribers to the theory of equidistance. Communal forces are a major danger for us,” he added.
The CPM, which rules West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, also wants an increase in the share of states in national revenues.
“Right now it is 27 per cent. We want it raised to 33 per cent to start with and gradually to 50 per cent,” Yechury said, adding that the party would launch a campaign to demand restructuring of Centre-state relations. “We will consult other chief ministers on this.”