The opposition staged a walkout in the Assembly accusing the government of not doing enough to rein in the prices of essential commodities. Civil supplies minister P Thilothaman said except for certain vegetables, prices had remained either constant or had come down during the LDF period. Nonetheless, the latest price list put out by the Economics and Statistics Department show that prices had indeed gone up sharply.
“Contrary to what the minister said, the prices of various rice and pulses varieties have actually gone up,” Congress MLA M Vincent said, while raising the issue as an adjournment motion in the Assembly on Monday. Vincent said there was no market intervention strategy to speak of.
“The Maveli stores are not adequately stocked with the 14 essential goods that are sold at highly subsidised prices. People visit Maveli stores only to return empty-handed,” Vincent said. When the minister refuted the charge, Vincent said the Maveli outlet in Thilothaman's own constituency Cherthala had run out of coconut and sugar supplies.
Vincent said such apathy was especially cruel as this was a time when the common man was already reeling under the impact of last year's deluge. “Their purchasing power is so low that they find it hard to absorb even slight increases in the prices of essential commodities,” Vincent said.
The civil supplies minister agreed that Supplyco was provided a lower assistance of Rs 291 crore this time. “But we consider this as the triumph of our market intervention strategy. Our intervention had brought down prices in the open market that people need not have to depend exclusively on Supplyco outlets to purchase essential goods. Consequently, the financial support required for these outlets had gone down,” Thilothaman said.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala ridiculed the response of the minister. “If people have stopped going to Supplyco outlets it is not because prices have gone down in other shops but because these outlets do not stock the necessary quantity of goods,” Chennithala said. “Yesterday I had visited an outlet in Palakkad and I was told that only limited stock came to the shop and that was quickly over,” he said. Muslim League leader M K Muneer, too, said the poor had to travel three or four times to their nearest ration shop to get their monthly quota of subsidised goods.
The civil supplies minister, however, stuck to his stand that the government had controlled prices though conditions were not favourable and production costs had zoomed.
Nonetheless, official price figures show that the minister was only partially right. The government did manage to contain the prices of rice varieties. There had been an average of 6-7 per cent reduction in the price of various rice varieties.
He was way off the mark in the case of other essential commodities. The average price of various pulses had gone up by over 25 per cent. As for vegetables, the average increase in prices is over 50 per cent.
The one commodity for which the price had come down does not bring much cheer to the government either. There is a near 20 per cent fall in the price of coconut oil. Agriculture minister V S Sunilkumar said the government wanted the price of coconut oil to go up as it would help coconut farmers.
The opposition then pointed out that coconut farmers would be better helped if the support price of coconut was increased. “Now, it is Rs 25 a kg, and this has been fixed some 10 years ago. Make it at least Rs 35 a kg,” Kerala Congress leader P J Joseph said.