Under fire from the opposition and the Left allies, the UPA government on Wednesday announced a slew of measures to check inflation, including import of one million tonnes of edible oil and 15 lakh tonnes of pulses. It also called upon state governments to clamp down on hoarders.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may also meet the CMs to discuss measures to control inflation, Finance Minister P. Chidamabaram told the Rajya Sabha.
The Lok Sabha witnessed noisy scenes as the Left and the opposition joined hands to corner the government over rising prices.
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told the House that edible oil would be distributed through the PDS at a subsidy of Rs 15 per kg for BPL and Antodaya families.
Pawar also asked state governments to improve off-take from the PDS.
He said that the government had already abolished import duty on edible oils and pulses. On demands for a complete ban on future trading in essential commodities, he said if the Abhijit Sen committee -- instituted to look into the subject -- did not submit its report within 10 days, the government would take a decision one way or another.
Intervening in the discussion, Chidambaram warned of a crackdown against hoarders and cartelisation by steel and cement manufacturers. "If the behaviour (of steel and cement manufacturers) does not change, the government will not hesitate to take tough measures," he said. He said they were behaving like cartels and the government would break this "logjam".
While Chidambaram expected the Reserve Bank of India to shortly take appropriate steps on liquidity and money supply as part of monetary measures to check inflation, he said the government was even willing to "sacrifice revenue" in a bid to curb price rise.
The entire opposition and the Left walked out of the Lok Sabha, unsatisfied by the government response.
Chidambaram told the Rajya Sabha that the prime minister had already written to chief ministers asking them to invoke provisions under Essential Services and Maintenance Act to curb hoarding.
Chidambaram blamed unprecedented rise in global food and fuel prices coupled with not much increase in domestic food production for the rising inflation. "Unless the agriculture productivity increases we would continue to import global inflation. The government has taken steps to improve agriculture production and already public investment in agriculture is rising," the finance minister said.
Initiating the debate in the Lok Sabha, Gurudas Dasgupta of CPI blamed the government's neo-liberal policy for inflation and said, "I am sorry we supported the government for four years. I believe the experiment has failed."
In the upper house, CPM's Sitaram Yechuri said his party might have to do a rethink about its support to the government under the prevailing circumstances. He said rising inflation had further widened the gap between "Shining India and Suffering India".
BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi lambasted the government for saying that they do not have a magic wand to curb price rise. He said the Congress was synonymous with inflation and dared the Left to withdraw support to the UPA government, if they were indeed concerned about inflation.
The Left in both the houses demand universalisation of the PDS and ban future commodity trade in 25 essential goods, a move supported by Sachin Pilot of the Congress in the Lok Sabha.