Opposition seeks JPC probe into price scams

The Opposition parties have charged the government with 'failure' to check rising prices and demanded a Parliamentary probe of the ‘scam’ in pricing of essential commodities like wheat, rice, pulses and sugar

The Opposition parties on Thursday sought to puncture the economic growth story, charging the government with "failure" to check rising prices and demanding a Parliamentary probe into the "scam" in pricing of essential commodities like wheat, rice, pulses and sugar, reports PTI.

Launching a scathing attack in both Houses of Parliament on the issue of price rise, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left coalition alleged that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was indulging in a blame game instead of controlling runaway inflation, particularly of food items.

After stalling proceedings for two days on the issue, the Opposition mounted a fresh offensive on the government through a structured debate simultaneously in both Houses, skipping the customary Question Hour.

The government came under attack on a day when the pre-Budget Economic Survey painted a rosy picture of the economy, projecting GDP growth of 7.2% for the current financial year and 8.75% in the next fiscal.

Despite some measures like export checks and import liberalisation, food inflation is ruling at 17.58%.

Leading the attack in the Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj said, "We demand a Joint Parliamentary Commission (JPC) to enquire into the scams in wheat, rice, pulses and sugar". She said the probe should find out why decisions which led to "scams" were taken.

She quoted a Bollywood film dialogue about 'maal idhar se udhar karna' (wheeling-dealing) and said "the government is doing this and the matter should be investigated".

Ms Swaraj claimed the government imported and exported sugar ‘simultaneously’. The sweetener was being exported at Rs12.5 per kg and imported at Rs36 per kg at the same time. She said total profits of the 33 listed sugar mills jumped from Rs30 crore in October-December 2008 to Rs901 crore in the same period next year. "It is a jump of 2900%. This is a scam and it needs to be investigated," she said.

Ms Swaraj said the Food Security Bill would be a futile effort if the government did not have correct figures of those who should be covered under it.

In the Rajya Sabha, leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said the situation reflected ‘complete inaction’ of the Manmohan Singh government and lack of coordination between the Prime Minister's Office and various ministries.

Mr Jaitley said the statement in the Congress mouthpiece, Congress Sandesh, that “some practical difficulties in coordination between the PMO and various ministries are natural in a coalition government” was a confession of lack of cohesion between ministers responsible for controlling prices.

"Leadership is not an art of making compromises for the sake of coalition. We cannot live with a system where PMO feels helpless," he said.

Slamming the Union government for indulging in a blame game over the rising prices, the Left said the government will have to make a policy shift to arrest the situation, which it termed as a fall-out of economic liberalisation.

"Government is not ready to accept its failure but only engaging in a blame game. Do not make it an issue of ego. You will have to make a policy shift," Brinda Karat (CPI-M) said.

Alleging a scam in sugar prices, she said the government's "manipulative policy" is responsible for it and demanded constitution of a JPC or a white paper to "expose this and make someone accountable".

She alleged that sugar millowners profited hugely at the cost of farmers and consumers.

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