Opposition Congress on Wednesday staged a walkout in the Punjab assembly as it cornered a virtually defensive food supplies minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon for “non-supply of subsidised sugar and kerosene to poor families in the state.”
The issue came up during the question hour when leader of opposition Sunil Jakhar demanded a probe by a House committee into whether kerosene, subsidised foodgrains and sugar were being supplied to the poor in Fazilka district. He pointed out that Fazilka included the constituencies of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal and that of health minister Surjit Kumar Jayani who had earlier been in the thick of kerosene pilferage controversy.
As Jakhar named Jayani for the last year’s episode of kerosene pilferage, the latter, a health minister now, kept smiling.
After there was no response to the demand for probe from the treasury benches with chief minister Parkash Singth Badal and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal being present, the food supplies minister went on the defensive by stating that the previous UPA regime at the Centre had “discontinued allocation of subsidised sugar” by exempting the sugar mills from levy in May 2013 and it led to the shortage of subsidised sugar for poor families in the state.
Kairon said his department had even lodged FIRs against sugar mills for not contributing levy sugar prior to May 2013.
As Kairon read his reply, detailing the supply of kerosene and the number of actual beneficiaries, Jakhar led the opposition’s walkout for the government not heeding to their demand for the probe specifically in Fazilka district. Congress members, however, returned after a few minutes.
Dinanagar Congress MLA Aruna Chaudhary cornered the food supplies minister over the official list of beneficiaries covered under the National Food Security Mission as the minister said the state government had asked all deputy commissioners “to re-verify all ineligible cases and the process would be completed by September 30, 2015”.
Kairon has stated in his reply that that there were 4,011 sanctioned cases of the total 22,602 applicants. Jakhar again sought a probe in his constituency, claiming that the poor in Fazilka district were not getting any benefit under the food security mission.
Doubts raised over fund utilisation
Jakhar was also skeptical over the utilisation of central funds under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and the food security mission, specifically the wheat seed subsidy grant to farmers at the rate of ` 700 per quintal, as claimed by agriculture minister Tota Singh.
The agriculture minister had also stated in a reply to a question that the state government has been able to utilise `573.27 crore out of the total `758.19 crore it received from the Centre under RKVY and food security mission in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
A PWD mistake
PWD minister Janmeja Singh Sekhon acknowledged that the department had made ‘tax deduction at source’ (TDS) mistakenly while paying compensation to farmers for their land acquired for the Kurali bypass. Jagmohan Singh Kang of the Congress had asked the minister that by when the government would return the money to farmers that was wrongfully deducted despite the judicial verdict against any such deduction.
Sekhon assured the House that the farmers would be paid back the amount “at the earliest”.