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Price rise puts government on the mat

india Updated: Dec 16, 2009 23:28 IST

With potatoes costing twice as much since the past year and high onion prices bringing tears to housewives, galloping inflation has become a major embarrassment for the government with the opposition stalling parliamentary proceedings on Wednesday, resulting in the adjournment of the Lok Sabha for the day.

A dogged opposition belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Samajwadi Party (SP), the Left parties, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Biju Janata Dal refused to let proceedings get underway, shouting slogans and protesting the spiralling prices of essential commodities.

The Rajya Sabha too was rocked during question hour, forcing its adjournment but normalcy returned after the House reconvened at noon.

It was evident in the morning itself of what the Opposition's game plan was when they began with a demonstration outside the house - at the gates of Parliament House.

Among those in the demonstration were SP leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh, Communist Party of India-Marxist's MP Brinda Karat and Communist Party of India's Gurudas Dasgupta.

They continued the protests both inside and outside parliament.

"Mehngai pe rok lagao (Contain inflation)" and "Yeh sarkar badalni hai (This government has to be changed)" were some of the slogans shouted.

Question hour had to be adjourned twice in the morning after the noisy protests by MPs, who gathered near Speaker Meira Kumar's podium, making it impossible for the proceedings to continue.

She had no option but to adjourn the house.

But the protests were back at zero hour. Kumar tried her best to conduct the business of the house and asked ministers to lay various papers amid the din.

She also conducted some legislative business in the commotion, but ultimately gave up at about 12.20 p.m. and adjourned the house for the day.

Though India's annual inflation rate based on wholesale prices is under 5 per cent, food inflation has spiralled to 19.05 per cent, notably on account of prices of essential items of daily consumption.

"We will take the issue to the streets. We will compel the government to change its policy, otherwise we will change this anti-people government," said Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The protestors demanded universalisation of the public distribution system (PDS) and control on prices of essential commodities. Among their other demands was to bring essential commodities under the PDS at subsidised rates.

Data on the wholesale price index for week ended Nov 28 shows that over the past year, prices of potatoes have increased by over 101 percent, while onions and pulses have become dearer by 32.41 and 35.22 percent, respectively.

Similarly, vegetables have become costlier by 16.92 percent, rice by 12.95 percent, wheat by 12.66 percent, milk by 11.49 percent and fruits by 10.64 percent, as per the statistics released by the commerce and industry industry ministry.

"This is a matter of concern. There is an inflationary pressure, particularly in food items," Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters outside his North Block office here, reacting to the price index data.

"If food price inflation persists for long, they can fuel inflationary expectations and the monetary policy will have to take a view on this," added D. Subarao, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India.

Following are the average rise in prices of some essential food items over a 52-week period:

- Potatoes: 102.19 per cent

- Pulses: 41.96 per cent

- Vegetables: 31.03 per cent

- Onions: 23.46 per cent

- Cereals: 12.76 per cent

- Wheat: 12.6 per cent

- Fruits: 12.54 per cent

- Milk: 11.36 per cent