Row as Karnataka minister snubs farmer seeking enhanced supply
In a major embarrassment to the Y S Yediyurappa government, Karnataka food and civil supplies minister Umesh Katti on Wednesday reportedly told a farmer to die over a request for enhanced supply of rice through the public distribution system (PDS) amid a coronavirus-induced lockdown for two weeks across the state.
While the minister is yet to tender an apology, the chief minister’s office (CMO) expressed regrets over the remarks and assured all arrangements for those in need.
In an alleged phone conversation recording that was played on loop by all Kannada channels, the minister is heard telling a farmer that “it is better to die” and asked him “not to call him back” for any further requests.
HT could not independently verify the authenticity of the audio clip.
During the alleged conservation, the farmer told the minister that the government was providing only 2 kgs of rice. Katti responded by saying that an additional 3kgs of ragi will also be provided to the farmers.
When the farmer said that people of north Karnataka do not eat ragi, the minister said jowar would be provided instead.
“Will it be enough when there is no livelihood?” the farmer asked. To this, the minister said that the Centre was providing 5kg of rice during the lockdown. When the farmer sought to know when they could expect the distribution, the minister said “next month”.
“Should we go hungry until then or die,” the farmer asked. In his response, Katti said: “It is better to die and don’t call me back.”
The minister, however, claimed he felt provoked by the farmer’s remarks. “He asked me if I should die and I said die. He kept asking me If we should die. What should I have told him?” he told reporters.
Terming the remarks as “wrong”, the CMO said that arrangements will be made to distribute rice if the people did not want wheat. “I regret the statements made by Umesh Katti,” the CMO statement read.
The minister’s alleged response drew sharp criticism from the Congress who held a mock funeral of Katti, by carrying a body-like structure made of waste cloth with his photograph. The party also changed slogans against the minister.
Despite the government’s apology, the Congress demanded the resignation of the minister.
“BJP minister Umesh Katti has abused a citizen & asked him to ‘go die’ just because he asked him why Karnataka Govt has cut Rice under PDS to just 2 kgs! CM @BSYBJP
must immediately throw him out of the cabinet for this most insensitive statement.
Does this Govt have any shame?” state Congress chief D K Shivakumar said.
Speaking to reporters later, Shivakumar said apologising or expressing regret was not a solution. “Expressing regret is of no use. You should sack him. One should be accountable, responsible,” he said.
The incident came at a time when the state government is already grappling to curb the pandemic.
On Wednesday, Bengaluru reported its highest single-day spike with 22,596 new infections, pushing the overall number of active cases to 224,252. The city accounted for 137 out of the 229 fatalities in the state.
A close confidant of Yediyurappa, Katti had stoked controversy in February over his remarks that families with television sets and two-wheelers should surrender their BPL (below poverty line) cards before March 31 or face action.